The Mental Health Conundrum: Actions Speak Louder Than Words
In recent years, mental health has emerged as a top priority for organisations worldwide. Today, many are increasingly recognising that their most valuable asset is not just their products, services, or financial resources, but rather, their employees. This shift in focus is not just a response to altruism but a strategic move.
The contemporary world – characterized by a multitude of external stressors such as climate change, political uncertainty, warfare, financial insecurity, and constant scrutiny through social media and AI – has left millions, if not billions, of people feeling completely disarmed and "mentally raw."
Consequently, organizations are taking an increasingly active role in addressing mental health issues among their workforces. Such efforts, as this piece will highlight, can improve business operations and also the health and wellbeing of staff whilst simultaneously improving their loyalty and respect for their employer.
The Modern Mental Health Crisis
We have already mentioned how the barrage of external stressors the modern world delivers is taking a toll on the mental health of people worldwide. This means that depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and other mental health issues are on the rise.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that depression is currently the leading cause of disability globally, with anxiety disorders not far behind. The complexities of these conditions make them difficult to diagnose, as they manifest differently across individuals and cultures. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and certainly, no magic pill to cure mental ill-health.
Mental Health: The Next Public Concern
In response to this global mental health crisis, organisations are stepping up to prioritize the well-being of their employees. They recognise that a mentally healthy workforce is not only more productive but typically is also more loyal and engaged.
Moreover, addressing mental health issues is not just a matter of corporate responsibility but also a strategic imperative. Some of the many reasons organisations are increasingly focusing on mental health include:
· Enhanced Productivity: Employees who are mentally healthy are more focused, creative, and productive, and are often better equipped to handle stress and perform well in high-pressure situations.
· Talent Retention: Organisations that prioritise mental health are more likely to attract and retain top talent: the draw of an empathetic employer (in addition to one which offers good opportunities and financial packages) is undeniably appealing. What’s more, employees are more likely to stay with a company that genuinely cares about their well-being – here, actions speak lounder than words.
· Reducing Absenteeism: Mental health issues regularly lead to increased absenteeism. Logically, taking care of your workforce’s mental and physical health can help to reduce absenteeism. Naturally, it is rarely as clear-cut as this – but offering flexible working arrangements or paid-for counselling, for example, can only have a positive effect on individuals and teams, and will aid recovery for those who find themselves suffering poor mental health.
· Legal and Ethical Responsibility: In many regions, laws and regulations that hold organisations accountable for the mental well-being of their employees are evolving fast. Neglecting mental health can lead to legal and reputational consequences.
· CSR and ESG Initiatives: Organisations that embrace Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) seriously are recognising that mental health is as important as physical health. Prioritising mental health aligns with these initiatives, demonstrating a commitment to social well-being – this really is something organisations can be proud of, and can highlight in their internal and external communications with all stakeholders.
As with all employee-focused initiatives, actions really do speak louder than words. Communicating one’s commitment to mental health is one thing; implementing actual, physical structures or sessions is another. But there are some impressive initiatives out there, and the difference they are making to employees’ mental health is tremendous. Some of these include:
· WSP’s Mental Health First Aiders initiative and MyWellbeingCheck: WSP, a leading engineering professional services consulting firm with offices throughout the Middle East, says mental health is now at the forefront of its workplace. In 2019, the company introduced its Mental Health First Aiders initiative to respond should anyone want to discuss mental health concerns. The company introduced a Wellness Day in 2021 – an extra paid day of leave, and it also hosts regular internal webinars with professionals from The Lighthouse Arabia and King’s College Hospital London. They also recently launched MyWellbeingCheck, an online-based tool that enables our people to evaluate and enhance their holistic well-being via a personalised dashboard specifically designed to assess well-being across nine key lifestyle areas.
· Google's "G-Pause" Program: Google is known for its innovative workplace practices, and its "G-Pause" program is a prime example. This initiative encourages employees to take short breaks during the workday to focus on mindfulness and mental well-being. Google offers various resources and activities to support employees in managing stress and enhancing their mental health. It includes meditation sessions, emotional well-being workshops, and access to mental health professionals.
· TishTash’s Work From Your Home Country initiative: PR agency TishTash, which employs over 50 personnel across the GCC, has introduced a Work From Your Home Country initiative, encouraging employees to spend more time with their families and friends. By using technology and powerful internal communications, the company has leveraged its work-from-anywhere ethos to create a more productive, collaborative and loyal workforce.
· Salesforce's "Ohana" Culture: Salesforce, a leading customer relationship management company, has embedded a unique culture known as "Ohana," which means "family" in Hawaiian. This culture – which Salesforce says was already alive in its organisation long before its ‘official’ launch in 2004 – places a strong emphasis on mental health and well-being. Salesforce provides its employees with various mental health resources, such as employee assistance programs, access to licensed therapists, and a supportive community to discuss their mental health challenges.
· Unilever's Mental Well-Being Programs: Global consumer goods company Unilever has taken significant steps to prioritise the mental health of its employees. In 2020 – partly in response to the global pandemic – the company have implemented a range of mental well-being programs, including "Mental Fitness" training and support groups. These initiatives aim to help employees build resilience and cope with stress, and they create a culture in which discussing mental health openly is encouraged. To-date, over 4,000 of its employees globally have been fully trained as mental health champions, able to spot and work with employees who need support.
· EGA’s Mental Health First-Aiders EGA (Emirates Global Aluminium), which employs over 7000 skilled personnel in its factories in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has embedded a Mental Health First Aider program which delivers outreach sessions to anyone wanting to talk privately and honestly about their mental health. They are treating ‘mental first-aid’ in the same way as their Health & Safety protocols address physical safety: in other words, it is a top priority for everyone at the company.
· EY's "R U OK?" Campaign: Multinational professional services firm Ernst & Young (EY) launched the "R U OK?" campaign in 2016. This initiative encourages employees to check in on one another's well-being and provides resources for those in need. EY has also established employee networks dedicated to mental health and wellness, creating a supportive community within the organisation.
These are just a few examples that demonstrate how a growing number of organisations are taking proactive, tangible steps to address mental health concerns among their employees. By embedding innovative initiatives and creating supportive communities, they are not only prioritising the well-being of their workforce but also contributing to a broader cultural shift toward openness and understanding when it comes to mental health in the workplace.
Purpose/& believes that whilst there is no doubt that today’s world places huge strain on individuals, teams and organisations, that strain is not going to go away without well-structured, sensibly facilitated and generously funded support. Certainly, our future generations will come to depend on this tremendously important aspect of Social Responsibility: the ‘S’ in ESG