Who would have thought Robin Williams, a person who brought so much joy in people’s lives, would end up struggling with mental wellness and lose his life as a consequence? 2019 will mark his death’s five year anniversary. Not only was the incident tragic, but also ended up bringing the global issue of mental wellness into the spotlight. Mental wellness has been an issue plaguing society globally. Worldwide, 300 million suffer from depression, while the number is 86 million for South East Asia, according to a WHO study.
Workplace stress is a major contributor to disrupting the mental wellness of people. A recent study conducted by Accenture finds that the number of people affected by mental health challenges is even more than suspected. In the UK, for instance, two-thirds of employees surveyed said that they have experienced or are “currently experiencing mental health challenges or have even had suicidal thoughts or feelings”; and nine in ten had been “touched by mental health challenges in some way”.
Mental wellness has been an issue plaguing society globally. Worldwide, 300 million suffer from depression, while the number is 86 million for South East Asia, according to a WHO study.
Then the question becomes, ‘Are organizations doing enough?’ Research indicates – not really. According to the Accenture study, the change in attitude and efforts toward mental wellness has been slow. Only 1 in 4 respondents said that they have seen a positive change in organizations' efforts toward mental wellness, according to the research.
What can organizations do?
The research suggests three approaches that organizations can change to address mental health issues:
1. Allow employees to open up
People still do not feel comfortable sharing about stress and any signs of mental fatigue. Employees still have fears of opening up at work – as it can be deemed as a sign of weakness, limiting their opportunities for promotions and raises. The research suggests that organizations can get rid of this taboo when senior leadership talks about this issue openly with their employees – both in group addresses and personal conversations. The problem is – the leadership isn’t talking about mental health openly as of today. Another Accenture study found that only 14 percent of employees had heard their respective senior leader(s) to talk about mental health in their organization. Organizations need to make people comfortable and provide them with the psychological safety of opening up, signal to them that their mental wellness matters.
2. Train employees to be allies
A reason that mental health isn’t openly discussed at the workplace is that many people do not really know how to engage in a conversation around the subject. It requires proper training to effectively have a conversation with an individual exhibiting any mental health problem. Once a conversation concludes, the challenge for both the speaker and the listener is to know the next steps. That is where training becomes essential.
The workforce should be trained about empathetic listening and trust – hence ensuring that they can be each other’s confidants if any employee feels the need. All employees need to be trained as allies, and line managers need to be trained as people who exhibit care constantly and proactively intervene to keep their people content and well. The Accenture Study found that people who were able to talk about their mental health problems were shown empathy, support, and kindness by the first person they interacted with.
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Accenture’s Mental Health Programme Lead shares the example of his approach to taking training sessions with new allies. The participants share their stories one-by-one of mental health problems – could range from acute anxiety and PTSD to a close friend’s suicide and depression.
3. Explore online tools
Quora, Reddit, and Yahoo Answers have been a common recourse for people seeking answers to some difficult questions, and not feeling comfortable about opening up. The problem with the internet is you can never know which of the labeled-experts are actual experts. The right online tools though can do an effective job. Accenture UK, for instance, has the “Big White Wall” – which is essentially a chat environment where people can anonymously share their mental health problems. Not all organizations can build their own platforms or gain access to existing tools due to budgetary constraints. For them, the Human Resources function’s role becomes to curate the public but trusted sources to discuss personal mental health and tell them to their employees. This has a dual benefit – not only can the employees find allies anonymously, they also get the message from the management that the organization cares about the wellness of its employees.
It is important for organizations to maintain a balance between the physical touch and online comfort. While the latter plays a crucial role, it should not outdo the former. Regular conversations among employees, and openly talking about it in the organization is what is going to start the cultural transformation.
The objective of organizations should be to create an environment where employees feel safe to talk about their mental health problems, and are supported by classroom training and online tools to deal with it. Mental health challenges touch us at one stage or another in our lives, and their effects are going to be reciprocated at work. Hence it becomes important for organizations to address this issue, help their employees be at their best selves at both professional and personal lives, and make their workplace a mentally fit (and thus the best) place to work for.