Mental health, the workplace

Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamuse
Mental Health

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

Work is an essential part of life and of mental well-being.

The workplace is a key environment in maintaining mental health and wellness. Work, however, can also be a source of stress that can affect both physical and mental health.

This can in turn affect productivity and work outputs but ultimately leads to lost human potential and affects our ability to make a meaningful contribution to our communities.

How does work affect mental health?

Work should form part of a normal productive human life. This includes both working inside and outside the home.

Work gives structure to our lives, allows us to participate in purposeful and hopefully meaningful activities within our community.

Work also allows us to have meaningful social interactions outside of our family unit and expand our social support networks. Work can give us a sense of personal worth and value and many times forms part of our identity.

Work provides financial security, and this helps with psychological well-being. Work can be an ideal setting for early identification and facilitation of treatment for mental health problems if they arise. Work is also therapeutic and is a key part of full recovery from both mental and psychological ill health.

The Japanese concept of “Ikigai” suggests our work is most fulfilling if it involves us doing work that we are passionate about, work that we are competent at, work we can earn a living from and work we feel is meaningful and is helping solve some challenge for others.

However, work can result in some challenges that can affect mental health and well-being.

Work-related stress can result in burnout/ work-related exhaustion and increase risk of depression, anxiety and substance misuse.

Work conditions that can negatively affect our mental well-being includes:

Work cultures that are demanding but with low levels of control for the employee

Poor management practices such as micromanagement or lack of appropriate oversight

Work where expectations are not clearly explained, or expectations rapidly change

Disrespectful and uncivil environments

Work which does not fit one’s personality well

Work where there are limited opportunities to grow and develop as an individual

Work where there is little or no recognition or reward for a job well done

Work where we feel overworked

Work where we feel under-worked, or where we find that work is not challenging

Poor connectedness to the work being done, or feeling the work does not mean much or contribute much to the organisation’s goals

Work that affects work-life balance and causes frequent work-family conflict

Gender related role challenges

Work environments where there is poor psychological protection from bullying; harassment, unplanned or unnecessary changes

Work where there is little or no job security

Work environments where there is poor psychological support or poor response to psychological distress

How does mental health affect the workplace?

A worker who is stressed, apathetic and disengaged can cost the organisation. Poor mental health can result in poor concentration, poor decision making, poor reaction times, increased risk of errors or accidents, poor quality of work or inconsistency, poor relations with co-workers and poor customer relations.

The effects of poor mental health on work also include absenteeism with studies showing that more people are absent from work due to stress and anxiety than from physical illness or injury.

Studies also show that more days of work are also lost due to mental illness than from other chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis or asthma.

Presentism is another devastating effect of mental ill health on workplaces where an employee may be present on duty but is sadly not as productive.

The financial impact of presentism on an organisation can unfortunately be difficult to quantify. It is therefore critical that organisations prioritise the mental well-being of their workforce not only because it is the right thing to do but in order to safeguard the organisation and prevent unnecessary loss of productivity.

How can we make our workplaces emotionally healthy?

Healthy workplaces help to provide a conducive environment for workers to be productive ultimately resulting in better gains for the organisation. To help make the work environment mentally healthy, organisations can:

Improve awareness about mental health issues to decrease stigma through access to educational material on mental health as well as regular workshops or training seminars on mental wellness

Be responsive to psychological distress among staff, providing in-house psychological support when needed through peer counsellors; in house staff counsellors or employer provided access to mental health support

Provide protection from bullying, harassment, unplanned and unnecessary change

Create an open, fair, respectful organisational culture encouraging workers to participate in decision making

Provide opportunities for growth and development

Make effort to recognise and reward good work

Ensure appropriate workload and staff involvement in work planning

Promote and protect work-life balance, minimise situations that result in work- family conflict, involve the families of staff in appropriate events and where possible provide or subsidise childcare

Provide organised, safe physical workspaces

Encourage healthy lifestyles and facilitate access to physical health care services As we reflect on our mental health, let us consider:

How is work affecting our mental well-being and what needs to change about our workplaces and how we do work?

How could our mental health challenges be affecting our ability to function at work?

What sort of work environments are we creating for our own employees including our house help and personal staff?

What is the mental health status of our workforce and how could this be affecting productivity?

If you think that you or someone you know may be struggling with work related mental health problems, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

l Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by Dr Chido Rwafa- Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist. Feedback : +263714987729) ( ; [email protected])

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