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Employee mental health: a priority for companies?

Employee mental health: a priority for companies?

If there is one thing that the pandemic has accelerated more than changed, it’s the fact that employee expectations are increasingly focused on the issue of well-being, particularly mental well-being. Given the potential lack of work-life balance from the sudden shift to home-office due to COVID-19 and the need for social distancing, employees may be more prone to physical and mental burnout.

What is “mental health”?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it’s “as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

The pandemic and its impact on mental health

A US Census Bureau survey in December last year found that over 42% of people surveyed reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in December, an increase from 11% the previous year. A KFF Health Tracking survey from July 2020 found that many adults are reporting negative impacts on their mental health and well-being due to worry and stress about the coronavirus, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increased alcohol or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%). Isolation and loneliness are other aggravated trends.

What factors were already affecting mental health before the current picture?

Health-related benefits have always been important, and it is not surprising that the Covid-19 pandemic brought them to the forefront. However, even before the pandemic, some factors affecting the mental health of employees were being discussed. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, for instance, pointed out overwork, conflicting demands, lack of clarity about an employee’s role/function, poor communication, and poorly managed organizational changes as working conditions that could most affect employees’ mental health. A study by the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) in Europe, meanwhile, highlighted work reorganization or job insecurity, long working hours or excessive workloads, and bullying or harassment at work as the main causes of work-related stress.

How can companies help with employee mental health?

Despite its exponential growth, few companies have actually implemented or strengthened a set of solutions to address employees’ needs related to their mental health. Netflix, the world’s most popular movie and series streaming service, gives its employees the opportunity to decide their own schedules, workdays, and vacation time. Taking into consideration that from the company’s point of view the poor mental health of employees impacts productivity, adopting measures related to the psychological needs of workers is essential. Here are some examples:

  1. Extension of health insurance to include mental health.
  2. Psychology/psychotherapy appointments.
  3. Creation of health and wellness programs, which may include:
    1. Mindfulness sessions
    2. Workshops on stress management, burnout, learning to cope with anxiety…
    3. Offering a subscription to yoga, pilates, or meditation classes
    4. Creation of “happy hourssessions, with team building activities or where an informal conversation about trivial topics is encouraged.
  4. Implementation of Internal Communication channels, focusing on support communication (articles, e-books, infographics, and other materials with tips, for example…)
  5. Reinforcing the importance of a healthy work-life balance.

We have already talked about work-life balance in our blog, but we would like to reinforce its importance here, as the lack of quality of life of employees and the lack of balance between their personal and professional spheres can bring with it a series of negative consequences, of which we highlight stress and burnout, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, deterioration of family and social relationships, which can lead to isolation and loneliness, and physical problems. We are all subject to physical and mental exhaustion due to overwork, but this can be avoided if companies understand that the mental health of their employees is essential not only for their own well-being but also for the productivity of their teams.

Thus, it is crucial that companies are able to maintain a safe work environment while empowering employees, recognizing and caring for their well-being, a key factor in organizational success.

Written by Cristina Meireles

Cristina Meireles has a special interest in marketing, psychology, HR and Employer Branding. She has found in WFM a way to improve the quality of life and productivity of employees, being a strong ally in motivational campaigns. She has a degree in Languages and Business Relations from the Faculty of Arts of the University of Porto and is currently attending the masters in digital marketing from ISCAP.