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Why Companies Should Care About The Mental Well-Being Of Employees

Updated: Aug 30, 2020

by Chloe Lee |

Here are some of the things employers care about the most: productivity, efficiency, effectiveness and quality of work. However, there is little emphasis placed on the emotional well-being of staff, which is the core to a healthy, happy and productive workforce. In other words, you can’t make a good apple pie with bad apples, and the quality of how employees are treated will eventually show in the quality of their work.

The World Health Organization (WHO) mentioned that depression and anxiety are said to bring about a negative economic impact, whereby the loss of productivity costs the global economy almost US$1 trillion each year. On the contrary, for every US$ 1 invested into treatment for common mental disorders, there is a US$ 4 in improved health as well as productivity. Therefore, caring about the emotional well-being of employees is not just a benefit to the staff, but is also an informed business decision to increase value, revenue and loyalty.

The recent Movement Control Order (MCO) has further revealed the vulnerable mental state of Malaysians. A study by the Centre on How the MCO Affected Income, Jobs, and Mental Well-Being showed that a decrease in income is correlated to an increase in negative mental well-being. Part-time employees taking one of the biggest hits financially have also reported experiences of extremely severe or severe signs of depression (27%) and anxiety (34%).

As such, when companies sow the right seeds into their staff and are intentional about creating the right culture and providing financial security (to the best of their abilities), they will surely reap its benefits. Other than the healthier outputs (in terms of productivity and emotions) of employees, having a measurable action-plan for emotional well-being also serves as good employer branding and Employer Value Proposition (EVP) that attracts and retains good employees. When there is a positive work environment that also recognizes the emotional experiences of staff and offers solutions to combat stress or anxiety, it lowers turnovers and establishes loyalty to the firm.

How then can you place your employees at the heart of your organisation and tell them that you care? Here are a few things you can consider:

It starts with the right culture

It boils down to how you treat your employees and how you respond to their needs. As an employer, you should always try to cultivate a culture of mutual trust and respect. If the mental well-being of the staff is a priority from the top, the importance will eventually be cascaded down too.

You can start by introducing a culture of flexibility, such as working from home or flexible work hours, that would allow them to take breaks when they need, and to also give them time to take care of toddlers or elderly parents. Ask yourself: do you trust that they are capable of managing their own time and completing the tasks without your constant supervision? Cultivating a healthy culture also means that there should be zero tolerance of workplace bullying or harassment.

To understand mental health in the workplace better, we spoke to Joan Low, Chief Executive Officer of ThoughtFull and Ivy Tan, Head of Counselling of ThoughtFull. ThoughtFull is Asia’s pioneer digital mental health care company that strives to create affordable and accessible mental health solutions for employers through ThoughtFull Education and ThoughtFullChat.

“Integrated approaches to address psychological safety can be expressed through the organization’s diversity and inclusion initiative and voices of organizational leaders. Leaders are in the strongest position to positively influence the working environment, management practices and experiences of employees.”

Adopting an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) 

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is an intervention session that facilitates employees in resolving their work-related issues, it also guides employees through any other problems that affect their performance at work. There are various types of services and can be offered through online chats, emails, phone calls or face-to-face counselling sessions.

“Southeast Asian corporates lose up to 64 working days annually due to mental-health-related issues. Sub-optimal mental health not only directly affects one's health but also long-term productivity, and company bottom lines.

This is where EAPs can benefit employees’ wellbeing needs and employers’ goals for a healthier and more sustainably productive workforce. EAPs are mental health support infrastructures and services put in place by an employer for the continued betterment of its employees.

Traditional EAPs’ services may include educational workshops, face-to-face therapy sessions onsite or offsite, and 24/7 hotlines that support employees who may be experiencing particularly challenging times both emotionally and psychologically. With the rapidly changing environment due to the CoVID-19 new normal, digitally-driven EAPs are also on the rise to meet the rising demand of mental health needs.” – Joan and Ivy.

ThoughtFull has also recently launched their subscription-based mobile chat platform that connects users to certified mental health professionals: “In contrast to traditional EAPs that focus more on interventional mental health services for employees’ who are already in acute duress, ThoughtFullChat focuses on preventive measures by empowering employees’ to proactively build their mental resilience from the get-go through unlimited texting with their coaches.

General understanding of and proactive engagement with one's mental health is still not common practice in Asia. Hence, ThoughtFullChat’s confidential mobile chat platform and emotional growth tools significantly reduce the stigma and make building mental resilience a more approachable, and accessible activity that can be done on-the-go.”

Allowing employees to take Mental Health Leave

Traditionally, all employees are expected to submit a medical certificate to take the day off. When you’re having a bad case of diarrhoea, dragging your feet to the clinic for an MC is an impossible task. Some companies have started introducing medical leaves without an MC (with terms and conditions applied) for emergencies or when your head is pounding and your body just needs to rest.

In Singapore, a pilot was conducted to test this out and found that the system was not abused and instead, general morale has increased due to the autonomy given to the people. This can also be seen implemented in PwC Malaysia. Similarly, experiences of depression, anxiety or panic attacks can be overwhelming and crippling. If employees are not pressured to cope but know that they can occasionally take a break without having to explain themselves, it eliminates the stigma that having mental illnesses suggests that we are crazy or incapable.

This would empower people to take care of themselves in a more holistic manner; not only are you entrusting your workforce by giving them more freedom, but you are also showing that you care.

Consider mental health aspects in the insurance provided

Most companies offer some kind of employee insurance scheme which includes medical benefits that cover hospitalizations, surgery or visits to the general practitioner/clinics. However, it has yet to consider aspects of mental health. AIA has also recently introduced mental health benefits, and although mental health professionals are sceptical towards its effectiveness, it is a good first step in acknowledging the need to care for our mental well-being.

This is also a good time to review the medical benefits offered by companies to take into consideration treatments for mental illnesses, such as counselling or therapy sessions for employees. Visiting a counsellor should be as normal as visiting a chiropractor, dentist or doctor; our mental health should be seen as equally important as our physical health.

Joan and Ivy further elaborated that “when you have good mental health, you’re emotionally and physically healthy. You can draw upon your strengths, have a sense of purpose, direction, and motivation to do the things you want to do, and the ability to deal with challenges be it professional or personal. Early detection of mental health challenges either at work or home enables quicker implementation of preventative measures to support employees re-establish and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Better management of challenges leads to a reduction in absenteeism, presenteeism, tardiness, and relationship conflicts which in turn, increases productivity.”

If you would like to find out more about how your organization can address mental health and create a healthier workplace culture, you can find out more about ThoughtFull’s integrated approaches or workshops on mental health literacy on their website or through Instagram.

With digital disruptions replacing more and more jobs, what makes us unique as humans are our emotions and our ability to think critically. It is now time to pay more attention to the mental aspects of our beings and our emotions, especially in the workplace. Taking care of employees’ mental well-being not only allows them to be more happy and productive but also gives the company a competitive advantage to meet the demands of organisations of the future. It doesn’t hurt anyone to care, so start caring for your workforce today.

You can learn more about the writer on Instagram.

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