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When we are faced with a physical ailment such as pain and fever, we will visit the doctor immediately to get it diagnosed. However, we are not taking care of our mental health as much. For far too long, mental health has been stigmatised. Most of the time, mental health issues are tucked away in the recesses of our minds, hidden from others, and even ourselves.

A 2017 survey by the National Council of Social Service reported that for every S$1 invested in workplace adjustments to support people recovering from mental health conditions, it generated an average return of S$5.60 through a reduction in absenteeism, medical costs and a spike in productivity. The adjustments involve flexible work arrangements, resculpting job responsibilities, peer training in mental well-being.

But the lack of information, understanding of how mental health encapsulates all elements of life, as well as poor access to healthcare professionals skilled to manage mental health continues to hinder progress. COVID-19 may have brought mental health awareness to the centrestage, but there’s more to be learnt and done.

how working from home can aggravate mental health struggles?

Some of us live alone or lock ourselves in our own study room for at least eight hours a day to focus on work. Even though we may really be productive, coping with work from home when you are living alone might be quite challenging.

Working from home may have escalated some mental health issues due to the lack of social interaction and self-isolation. Additionally, some people may not have a conducive home to work in or in a toxic work environment and are faced with daily emotional triggers, which might further aggravate their mental health problems caused by stress.

Unknowingly, this may spill over to their professional life and create more negative implications at work. As people lose focus and become less productive, it adversely affects their relationships with colleagues and ability to meet deadlines. Employees are also less likely to face their own mental health challenges, as they often do not know what their options are or if their choice to speak out about their issues will impact their career progression in the future.

how to talk to someone about your mental health
how to talk to someone about your mental health

There is a need for the topic of mental health to pervade our daily conversations so as to break the social stigma and encourage more people to seek help on managing and coping with it. Leaders not only need to make it an imperative to foster an open culture of empathy, but also lead by example. Role modelling is a compelling method to de-stigmatise open discussions regarding mental health challenges throughout every facet of the company. Another way is to create an in-house taskforce to ensure employees have easy access to professional help without any perceived consequences or judgement.

what can you do as an employer to support mental well-being in the workplace?

The most important first step to managing mental health is education.

1. provide adequate resources for employees to learn how to manage mental health

Companies can engage healthcare professionals to educate employees about the different types of conditions on the mental health spectrum and how to effectively manage these issues.This will help equip employees with the knowledge and skills to help themselves or their colleagues better manage their mental health issues.

Employers can also appoint some supervisors to receive professional training from a psychologist or therapist and become ‘mental health diplomats’ to cultivate positive mental wellbeing and drive these discussions in the workplace.

2. introduce mental health day leave

Employers may also consider a less traditional approach such as introducing Mental Health Day leaves. Give employees a small number of paid leave days a year that they can use to pay special attention and care for their emotional or mental wellbeing, no questions asked.

This would lessen the stigma around mental health and enable employees to be more forthcoming to their employers about their challenges and asking for help so as to prevent burnout.

benefits of mental health education
benefits of mental health education

3. have casual regular check-ins

Employers could also start a “Morning Coffee & Chat” to have casual chit-chatting sessions with their staff. The rule is simple: no shop talk. To facilitate such conversations, someone in the team can decide on a theme or topic to chat about and everyone has the same amount of time to contribute. The topics could be about the latest blockbuster or TV series, new restaurants to visit or new workout routines to share and try.

4. organise a virtual team experiences

Another fun and social initiative employers could introduce would be an Airbnb Online Experience, to help their staff take their minds off work for a certain period of time. These ‘online experiences’ are conducted through video. Led by a guide or expert, employees can have a different non-work ‘experience’ to recharge their mind and look for new creativity.

Such virtual experiences would include, “zen eating to enrich your life”, an “animal sanctuary virtual experience”, “meditation with a japanese buddhist monk”, viewing “New Zealand nature highlights” and “remote rescue goats”. These virtual experiences can help them to look forward to some semblance of normality once borders are reopened.

Such activities would foster deeper relationships between colleagues, especially when remote working limits social interactions within the teams. This would let everyone feel like they are heard, and encourage them to get to know each other better to form new relationships.

encourage employees to take leave for better work-life balance

During this pandemic, employees tend not to take leave as they are “already at home”. Employees with mental health issues may not be aware of the psychological effects of working from home and may need a time off. Taking care of our mental health is crucial especially in this period of uncertainties.

If you notice that your employee is easily distracted or having troubles interacting with their colleagues, encourage them to take the day off to focus on themselves. You never know when you come across someone who is struggling and sometimes, even the smallest of actions can make a world of difference. Most importantly, encourage them to seek professional help to manage their mental health, or speak to a close friend or family member about what they are experiencing.