How to build a mental health-friendly workplace

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Now, more than ever, many employees are fighting mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression.

Furlough, job insecurity, homeschooling, money worries and health concerns are piling pressure onto mental health that may have already been fragile. As a manager and a fellow human being, it’s important to understand and proactively support colleagues who are struggling.

Before COVID-19 became an issue, more than 20% workers experienced problems such as low mood, anxiety and stress. And with the pandemic and its restrictions affecting people to the extent that 50% of adults in Malaysia feel their mental health worsened as a result of Coronavirus, employers are in a position to help the people who work for them with their mental wellbeing.

Why company culture is so important

At a time when many businesses are struggling, cultural development may not seem like a priority but we believe the opposite is true. For employers to effectively ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ their team members back to the workplace against their will, transparency, trust and communications are all key.

Managing and supporting people who are nervous or anxious about returning to the workplace calls for careful planning. Employees need to understand the steps their employers have taken to ensure they will be safe and that their wellbeing is genuinely a high priority. Trusting an employer to do the right thing and handle issues in a responsible way is key to building trust and reducing current fears which could be contributing to poor mental health.

So, what can employers do to boost mental wellbeing at work?

With greater transparency and better support, employees would feel more comfortable coming forward about their mental health – but rolling out effective measures can be hard. So what employers can do to boost mental wellbeing at work?

1. Urge your team to take time out for self-reflection and to build a wellness action plan. This will enable employees to elaborate on how they’re feeling and help them consider how their managers and colleagues can assist when they’re not at their best.

2. Appoint mental health consultant, who are trained to talk about mental wellbeing. They can intervene in a crisis and are highly approachable to colleagues. We recommend employing mental health consultant that are a reflection of your workplace demographic.

3. Take time to train your managers to spot signs of poor mental wellbeing. This step is crucial in organisational transformation, not only does this take the strain off mental health first aiders, it instills the confidence in managers to be able to talk to their employees. In turn, employees feel more relaxed to approach their managers if, and when, they need to have a chat.

4. Provide resilience training to better equip your workforce to deal with changes. It does pay off to provide your employees the emotional toolkit they need to handle changes to working patterns, responsibilities and the wider social-economic environment.  

Many companies found this especially beneficial during the Covid-19 pandemic, with many colleagues finding that it has helped them with tools and strategies to deal with life stresses outside of the workplace too.

5. Ensure job satisfaction, as it plays a large role in an employee’s mental wellbeing. Whether that’s taking time to pave a proper career plan and regular reviews on their performance, or as simple as introducing appreciation rituals like ‘shout-out Fridays’, it helps to make employees feel valued and appreciated.

6. Don’t let physical health take a backseat. We all know the undeniable link between physical and mental health. Take steps to ensure measures are in place to facilitate exercise and better sleep.

Encouraging team-led initiatives introduces friendly competition, making exercising fun and nurturing teamwork.

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