Singaporeans spend most of their time at their workplaces, and in some sense, their workplace is their second home, and now, their workplace could be their home. How do we consider our colleagues? Are they like family to us? Are we working in a supportive environment?
Many a time, the workplace health and mental well-being of employees are compromised as business organisations focus on driving revenues and profits with little attention to safety, health and wellness of the staff. The impact of these is the negative effect on job-related attitude and job performance. In some instances, some workers may develop mental health issues such as anxiety or depression over time if they are too overwhelmed. As such, there is an increasing need for employers to acknowledge the positive correlation between having good mental health in their workers and the productivity and success of the business.
Across all workplaces, we need to step up and start considering ‘wrap-around strategies’ to counter the negative effects of excessive work on employees’ mental health, one of which includes unhealthy stress levels especially when it’s so easy to blur the boundaries of work and personal time while we work from home. Organisations usually conduct one-off mental health awareness programmes as an attempt to spread awareness among employees in the hope of reducing the occurrence of mental health issues. However, by making these awareness programmes an annual occurrence, employees tend to find it a dread, and the messages no longer get through to them as effectively. On the other hand, how many employees would attend the programme if it were to be on a voluntary basis? Many companies are aware of this but are still trying to find the right balance between promoting mental wellbeing and business sustainability.
Employers and HR practitioners have to accept that mental health issues are more often than not deep-rooted, and cannot be solved easily with such band-aid solutions (as most people would expect). This calls for wrap-around strategies, which would mean tackling mental health issues at the fundamental level and preventing problems from cropping up in the first place. It is in no one’s interests to try tackling the situation only when things get out of hand.
Having the right mindset and attitude is pivotal. We need to start thinking of our employees as our very own family members. If so, what can we do to make them happy? Do we have a framework for a healthy workplace? Are there plans in place to provide employees with the necessary support? For one, organisations can take the first step to introduce more flexibility into the workplace, with working from home being a mandatory option these days, it is the most opportune moment to reframe workflow processes for the longer term. This includes creating a flatter hierarchy, where there are fewer layers of management and less formal divisions between the higher-ups and the rest of the staff. Employees will thus be more involved in decision-making processes, creating a greater sense of ownership and accountability. The greater involvement of staff in the organisation will allow them to develop into more confident and capable workers, as well as enhance employee satisfaction. With greater employee satisfaction comes a greater sense of empowerment and motivation – factors that are crucial towards the productivity of the organisation.
Do we need to start thinking of what are the overlooked essentials of employee wellbeing? In your organisation, what is the decision-making process (in terms of policies and other forms of red tape) like? At present, most workplaces have a ‘top-down’ approach, where decisions are made by the senior management of the organisation and information is then cascaded downwards to the lower levels. In such cases, the staff are not given a voice and have no contribution to any of the decision-making processes. In contrast, when employees are given a chance to contribute their ideas, this encourages employee engagement and motivates them to put in greater efforts to overcome challenges. In turn, employees will certainly gain a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Hence, while it is true that not all work-related decisions can be made by the middle or lower tier of the corporate hierarchy, organisations should allow employees some level of discretion and autonomy to provide feedback or inputs to the decision-making process where possible. Organisations that succeed at providing the autonomy, social connections and support to their employees are better able to foster physical and mental well-being.
Needless to say, a flatter organisation would be counter-productive if the supervisors or senior management are unwilling to let go of micro-management and to show care for their employees. Managers and supervisors should start making an effort to check in with their subordinates and to ensure that they are coping well with their workload. Moreover, this should occur frequently, rather than being a one-off occurrence. Perhaps the head of each department could act as a “Welfare Ambassador”, and check-in with the employees within the same department. Getting to know the people in the same team better will allow them to identify any mental health symptoms, no matter how small. One way to get it started would be to allocate mini bonding sessions daily, each lasting approximately 15 minutes (even if it is just a short video call check-in). During this time, take turns to talk about your day, or about any difficulties that you may be encountering. relationships and social support with co-workers can improve emotional connections and ease any mental stress and burden. Such baby steps will help develop the camaraderie among teams and improve everyone’s overall well-being in the long-run. However, Managers do need to take note that they are not professional counsellors and would need to draw healthy boundaries for themselves so as to not be overwhelmed by the transference of emotional issues. Learn to, for your own safety of boundaries, to openly and healthily bring up the subject of steering an emotionally and/or mentally troubled employee to seek professional help. Remember, there is no shame in seeking help.
Organisational structure aside, it is also important to ensure that the workplace has a conducive environment – one that fosters overall well-being of the staff. All work and no play will eventually take a toll on the employees’ health, both mentally and physically. If space constraint is not a problem, try allocating a room for staff to take short mental breaks. In other words, have a “chill” room! Do take note that this should be a separate space from the staff pantry, where employees usually have their meals or to grab a quick drink. Mental-break rooms, on the other hand, can be used for socialising or for employees to take a short rest. Such a room can be decorated in an informal style, with more comfortable furniture. There is absolutely no harm in placing a few beanbags or some sort for employees to relax on whenever they feel overwhelmed by their hectic schedules. For those working at home, perhaps remind them to take mental health breaks. HR could schedule it into company calendars as a reminder and these small steps could foster greater trust between employees and the company. Trust that their welfare is being considered in decisions and that they are not just a tool or a means to the company’s bottom line, but a life that they now also have a responsibility to steward.
In short, mental well-being is important for a productive workforce and a healthy workplace. We need to create an environment where employees feel welcomed and safe. Workplace mental health is not – and should not be – an issue that we sweep under the rug. We need to acknowledge that providing support to the colleagues around us holds great importance and that we cannot simply cast them aside, leaving them to deal with their troubles alone. Ultimately, assisting your employees and ensuring they have the best mental health support will go a long way.
Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash