“You’re hired”! Two words that carry so much meaning. Employers often anticipate moving the goal of an organization forward with the expertise of a new team member while new employees are usually excited about the imminent novel work experience. In some work environments, employees find over time that they are stuck in overwhelm in an environment that is nothing short of stressful, run by managers who appear to “not have a clue”.
Success in the work environment depends in great part on the level of employee engagement. Employee engagement is described as the positive psychological work-related state of mind that leads employees to actively express and invest themselves in their role. We find that while productivity is measured predominantly in physical terms, it is markedly dependent on the worker’s internal state of being. It is not enough for an employee to be physically present at work – but the happiness and fulfillment of workers is critical for productivity.
Mental health has been surrounded by so much stigma that most employees hold back from speaking up about challenges they may have. A general lack of understanding and a resultant lack of empathy precipitates labeling and discrimination against employees who may be struggling, when they do speak up. Where systems have not been put in place to address mental health concerns, employees suffer in silence. The dialogue on work related stress management has increased in recent times and while it’s an effort in the right direction, a more strategic approach to addressing employee mental health would be to explore preventative measures. Employers need to ensure that the people they hire do not develop any mental health conditions while on the job, just as they would want to prevent employees from getting physically injured on the job.
Employees in managerial roles play a critical part of ensuring that workers go through the right assessment of cognitive ability, resilience and adaptability, in order to ensure mental well-being of new and existing staff. Mental health challenges will show up in employee behaviours that seem out of character, and managers need to know their subordinates well enough to identify them. Chronic absenteeism, a lack of motivation, constantly creating conflict, marked isolation, memory lapses and even significant changes in eating patterns all give room for concern.
The Ghanaian population is gradually developing an understanding of mental health, especially mental health challenges that seem more prevalent. Understanding and awareness will help managers put every situation in perspective and recognize for example, that people who avoid speaking up at work may be dealing with a form of social anxiety and are not merely disinterested. Or that the employee who takes ‘too many’ days off may be dealing with a mood disorder. An employee may be a primary caregiver of a spouse or child and this may require adjusting and incorporating flexi time into his/her schedule, without which burn out will most likely set in.
True, monetary incentives are useful in increasing productivity levels; they are strategic but also temporary – almost like a band aid. The goal should be to build a mentally healthy work environment that brings the best out of employees. When leadership appreciates the concept of mental health in the work environment, the creation of a culture where mental health challenges are discussed openly becomes more likely. Leaders who master the art of communicating their own mental health challenges engage employees on this level more successfully.
So, conversations on mental health have been normalized at work – now what?! Leaders should actively mentor, give positive feedback, mediate effectively and possibly conduct regular and anonymous surveys to measure employee satisfaction and keep the dialogue open. A final yet significant measure would be to set up support groups and involve appropriate mental health practitioners. It would be instrumental in providing holistic healthcare and improving the employee experience.
By: Vanessa Baaba Dadzie