For a long time, I thought that if mental health was a taboo topic in many companies, it was due to the fact that there wasn’t enough information about it. It seems like there is, but when you actually examine those popular beliefs, you realise there is an incredible amount of lies and myths around mental health. The unknown is scary, and many believe that if we don’t know how to handle certain situations, it’s best to stay out of them so as not to cause any more damage. But we can actually defeat the unknown with information and psychoeducation. However, people don’t really care about it that much, and I believe that also contributes to thinking mental health is a subject best to avoid.
I’ve worked in different companies, offering external services in Venezuela, Chile and Argentina, and I’ve frequently heard that “You cannot do therapy inside the company because roles get mixed up”, or that “every person needs to take care of their own mental health problems, leaving the company aside.”
I do agree with the first claim: the process of therapy needs to have certain characteristics, which are’t possible in the company itself. For example, the therapist shouldn’t really share any other space other than therapy with their patient, since the relationship may struggle. So, a therapist inside a company that treats you and any other partner may not be the most efficient thing, not to mention it’s not really ethical.
However, I do have something to say about the second claim. Even though it would be ideal for every person, together with their primary support network (family and friends), to be in charge of their own treatment or psychological guidance, we shouldn’t ignore the whole environment in which us, human beings, interact, and that includes our workplace. In fact, in its research, the WHO has pointed out that a negative work environment directly affects mental health through stress, anxiety, depression and substance dependency.
This is why I believe it’s important for mental health to be addressed by organizations, maybe not offering therapy to its employees, but with preventive activities and support.
Mental Health in Times of Pandemic
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies had no choice but to actually look at the big elephant in the room. If there’s no illness, then people are mentally healthy, but healthy interactions among people are also important and, in that sense, since we’re now working remotely, certain aspects of those human interactions had to be refined.
In addition, it isn’t surprising that levels of stress have risen in the past few months due to the current context. There is chronic stress and burnout, but also specific situations, such as the fear of getting Covid or losing our jobs, make us worry. Unfortunately, a person who suffers from stress or some sort of mental discomfort loses productivity, and we shouldn’t think of it as a “whim”, or “weakness”, least of all “manipulation”. In this sense, companies needed to start paying attention to stress and take action, regardless of how many tools they had to face the situation.
Actions to Take Care of People’s Health
Some preventive measures are necessary to maintain our well-being. These should be oriented towards developing good personal and interpersonal habits, as well as supporting actions, such as avoiding judging other people and, instead, supporting them as much as our tools allow us to. Some examples of these actions could be:
– Offering team building workshops and/or activities to foster team integration.
– Organizing lectures about mental health awareness in the work environment (burnout, expectations management, habits, etc.).
– Putting together good practices manuals for team work, and training people on them.
– Promoting flexibility and active pauses during working hours.
– Explaining that the company offers spaces for sharing and that it supports employees in their career plan, among other topics that promote integral well-being.
– Looking for a professional that could give us advice on work environment, culture and well-being in companies and that could offer us different techniques to improve it.
Guidelines to Create a Healthy Work Environment
It may sound obvious, but the most important thing is to promote good and healthy communication. This may sometimes be mistaken with absence of conflicts, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Conflicts are part of human nature, and we should really work on trying to solve these issues through effective and assertive communication.
In addition, it’s important to have people around us who might be willing to listen to us, and whose role was to provide solutions when problems are connected to the company, such as career plan, expectations management, lack of motivation with the job position, and flexibility, among others.
Integration through team building is also vital, because when looking for a more complete form of well-being, it’s important that the company we work for feel like a second or third home and that we feel comfortable working there with our colleagues.
We mustn’t forget that we should be able to speak out loud about our good practices in our everyday work, and about promoting and demanding mutual respect. It’s not enough to be “available”, we should be able to talk about it.
Mental Health and Its Impact on the Business
It’s true that companies have a primary activity they devote their time and effort to. However, results won’t be completely positive if certain issues related to mental health are ignored, since it’s people who run businesses. Mental health should be seen as an investment of time and economic resources, the profit being good work performance and positive results.
If we look for balance, the outcome is favourable. Good health brings about well-being and, consequently, productivity. If we keep on refusing to accept and address mental health issues, living standards decrease, together with employee satisfaction. A person who doesn’t feel comfortable at work will feel less and less motivated, and that will be reflected on their productivity.
To round up, I’ll quote the WHO: “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” In this definition, it becomes clear that it’s beneficial for any company to take care of mental health adequately, promoting certain actions so that it stops being taboo, and it becomes one more area of the company.