Happy, Healthy, And Wealthy: How Employers Can Sustain A Productive Workforce

It is important to focus on preventative mental health care in the workplace rather than intervening late, by which point issues may have become too big to resolve– and costly for the business.

By
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Ironic as it may seem, the COVID-19 crisis has placed the issue of mental health on the agenda in a way that might otherwise not have happened– in this respect, the pandemic has served a wider social and economic purpose.

Shutterstock.com

In a world of remote working and increased isolation, it is more important than ever for families, communities, and employers to detect the early signs of trouble. I know from my own experience how painful it can be when mental health issues fail to be identified or treated.

My mother was severely depressed for a very long time, and it was only after seeking treatment that she was able to get on the road to recovery. She now works as a mental health therapist. But it took time for her to fully address her mental health problems, and perhaps even longer for us -her family- to understand it. Like her, my mission is to change the way we talk to each other about these issues –to make those conversations easier– and to create a culture of preventative psychological care.

Part of this journey involves raising awareness, changing attitudes, and persuading people to talk, because mental health has for too long been a stigma around the world, and especially so in the Middle East region. It is particularly important to have these conversations in the workplace- we spend a third of our lives at work, and what happens there impacts every other aspect of our personal wellbeing. For employers, psychological wellbeing is intimately connected to productivity, performance, and profitability. That is why I founded Plumm, a safe space for people from all over the world, from all backgrounds and cultures, to access mental health support at their convenience.

Detecting the early signs of mental stress in the workplace can be difficult– and even more so via remote working. For those who may not know, the International Classification of Diseases provides a definition: "Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy."

Related: A Look At How Businesses In Dubai Are Ensuring The Physical And Mental Well-Being Of Their Employees Amid COVID-19

Burnout, alongside anxiety, chronic stress, and depression, are a few of the conditions people in the workplace live with daily, and many of these begin with symptoms that can be easily treated. To achieve sustainable productivity and growth, business heads should be looking at the long-term care of their employees, as well as the long-term success of their business as the economy gradually stabilizes following the pandemic. It's therefore important to focus on preventative care rather than intervening late, by which point issues may have become too big to resolve– and costly for the business.

Employers should also recognize that their workforce is likely to exist in varying states of mental fitness, with some requiring intervention (we call this the "red zone" at Plumm), others showing early signs of distress (aka the "yellow zone") who might benefit from preventative measures, and those in the "green zone," who feel completely well mentally, but would benefit from personal growth through coaching and wellbeing courses.

The cost dimension is central to the wellbeing strategy. For those charged with managing people -HR professionals and benefits managers- the protection of people is synonymous with protecting the bottom line. Part of that equation is productivity and performance. The other is healthcare insurance.

Multiple studies and research papers show that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the incidence of mental health crises and pushed up corporate healthcare premiums. Recent analyses from the 2022 MercerMarsh Benefits Health Trends report shows that "emotional or mental risks" are now ranked second in the top-five risk factors ahead of metabolic and cardiovascular risk, occupational, infectious diseases and dietary risk. Additionally, it is increasingly understood that being in a healthy mental state can help prevent serious health conditions, and that illnesses like depression can contribute to the development of chronic physical illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis.

Because of this, many companies across the Middle East are experiencing inflation-busting increases in employer-sponsored medical plans. Medical trend rates are higher in the Middle East than in any other region, and 64% of insurers are incorporating outpatient mental health services as part of their medical plans- compared to a global average of 43%. To combat this seemingly exponential rise in mental health challenges and associated productivity and insurance costs, UAE firms must pivot towards the adoption of new preventative tools.

Creating Plumm has allowed me to fulfil an important personal and professional need: to bridge the gaps in employee wellness by providing easy access to accredited therapists through one-on-one video and chat therapy services. This is supported by wellbeing courses such as live, interactive monthly workshops, first aid training in mental health, guided meditations, and soundscapes, which are all available via Plumm's website, iOS and Android mobile apps, Microsoft Teams, and Slack.

These tools comprise a comprehensive suite of preventative mental health services tailored to the individual and supported by fully anonymized real-time analytics. These make it easy for HR professionals and managers to better understand their team's overall wellbeing, support employees' personal circumstances, and nurture a high-performance culture. Perhaps most importantly, as I have seen in my mother's renewed sense of purpose and happiness, preventative care is the key to avoiding pain and suffering– and that is what matters after all.

Related: You're Not Alone: Entrepreneurs Need To Talk About Their Mental Health Battles