Mental health is important in the workplace


Mental health is essential in the workplace, especially now that everyone is returning to the office although they are still suffering from the outfall of the pandemic that kept them away from their colleagues for two years.

“Organisations need to find new holistic ways to help their employees heal from the stresses of the pandemic or they could risk losing staff.”

This was one of the insights shared at a media roundtable, ‘Creating holistically healthier South Africans in workplaces’ on corporate wellness held by Life Health Solutions.

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Participants discussed global trends, such as ‘The Great Resignation’, which has seen professionals around the world quitting their jobs in the wake of the pandemic.

“Locally, instead of resigning, skilled workers are more likely to seek new, or additional, as freelancers and consultants,” says Justin Fiddes, wellness specialist at Telesure Holdings Group.

Others may resign and then become suppliers to their previous employers. South Africans are also leaving the office and becoming remote workers. Their mental well-being is a strong influence on whether they decide to leave.

Well-being becoming more important

“Worldwide, well-being is sometimes a stronger drawcard than remuneration and benefits in terms of attracting talent,” says Fiddes. “Corporates really need to take it seriously. People want a better quality of life, and wellness can be a competitive advantage.”

Employee wellness is also influenced by company culture and staff need to feel part of a group, says Dr Leanne Mandim, head of clinical management at Life Health Solutions.

“People want to feel connected to other people. While there are benefits to working remotely, humans crave connection with others and we see that in our research. Face-to-face engagement will remain part of most workplaces.”

The panellists agreed that the Covid-19 pandemic placed an unprecedented burden on the mental well-being of workers, with Life Health Solutions CEO, Nicole Corbin, saying it is now accepted that corporates need to support the mental health of their employees.

“People are a company’s most valuable asset and organisations need to offer their people an integrated health and wellness offering.”

Corbin believes that business productivity would also benefit from a holistically healthy workforce. “We consistently see improvements in morale, overall health and productivity, specifically in clients who have established mental wellness solutions for their people.”

“We are seeing increases in depression, anxiety and family relationship issues. People can bring their issues to work, which impacts the issue of presenteeism, as well as absenteeism. On a positive note, Covid has allowed us to reach many more people through digital enablement and has also broken down hierarchies within organisations,” Mandim says.

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Flexible, hybrid approach benefits mental health

Dr Prinesh Reddy, head of product development for Life Health Solutions, says many employees are looking for a flexible, hybrid approach that allows them to fetch their children during the day or work remotely from another city.

“Corporates may need to consider how they support a hybrid workforce because that is the future. Staff is now also far more likely to hold corporates accountable for their behaviour. We need to make sure our values are reflected in our culture, the way we engage with our staff, and the support and benefits we provide.”

Financial wellness programmes are another game changer that can help support staff and set businesses apart from their competitors, says Myrna Sachs, head of health management solutions at AlexForbes.

“Companies need to prioritise employee well-being by ensuring they have a wellness strategy in place to support employees who are now suffering from burn-out and other mental health issues as we come out of the pandemic.”

She says they are seeing an increase in incapacity and fitness for work requests, with 40 – 60% of cases due to mental and behavioural conditions. This is also seen in high-risk absenteeism cases.

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Financial wellness also a priority

John Manyike, head of financial education at Old Mutual, says employers must consider partnering with financial institutions that offer robust financial wellness programmes. “The emphasis should be on impact and creating a culture of caring for staff, instead of a purely transactional relationship. No employer can guarantee total job security, but you can offer a robust financial wellness programme that can help employees with financial challenges.”

He says employers could also try to be more creative in alleviating the costs of travel at a time when fuel prices are soaring.

“With early intervention, the prognosis for mental health was good. Researchers found exercise could alleviate symptoms like anxiety and depression. Employees should take ownership of their own wellness and tap into the resources their employer offers.

Corbin and Manyike agreed that data was going to play an ever greater role in managing staff wellness.

“The days of relying on the intuition of a CEO in the boardroom are over. In terms of employee health and financial wellness, we need to gather insights and make data-driven decisions,” Manyike says.

“Employers need to find creative ways to show up for their staff. We need to gather data about our staff and then use it to build a culture of care,” Corbin says.