Minding mental health in the workplace

07 July 2015 Sandy Govender, Momentum

There is nothing more valuable than a healthy and happy workforce. Often a company’s success depends on it.

“Over and above contributing to a company’s bottom line, promoting workplace wellness is a win-win for all,” says Sandy Govender, Head of Group Insurance at Momentum Corporate and Public Sector.

Workplace wellness programmes help employees to stay healthy and feel their best, and can lead to greater job satisfaction, while employers benefit from reduced absenteeism and a more productive workforce. But in spite of these benefits, very often mental wellness is not a priority in the workplace.

While most chronic lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, can be monitored and managed in the workplace, mental illness often gets overlooked and can fly below the radar. The negative stigma surrounding this disease also doesn’t help. Many employees would prefer to suffer in silence, than reach out and get the care they need.

Mental illness in the workplace costs companies millions each year, due to decreased productivity, poor quality of work and increased absenteeism. On average, mentally ill patients take eight more sick days than other employees. There can also be a wider impact on the greater workforce, whereby the work environment can become strained and sometimes staff members’ safety can even become comprised.

“With one in five people suffering from mental illness in South Africa, companies cannot turn a blind eye to the disease; they need to be actively managing their employees’ mental wellness,” says Govender.

While employee assistance programmes are not specifically focused on mental wellness, they do go a long way in promoting the health and wellbeing of a workforce. Some responsibility also falls on employers and managers, who need to be constantly on the lookout for any warning signs that a staff member may need help.

“Companies need to understand their workforce, as well as factors contributing to mental disorders to be able to properly manage employee’s mental wellness. For example regular exercise can lower someone’s chance of developing a mental disorder. Also a higher proportion of females claim for mental disorders than men, which may suggest that women are more susceptible to mental illness, or that they are more open to talking about it,” says Govender.

“Ultimately it is in the employer’s best interest to reduce mental health problems amongst their employees, creating a happier, more engaged and productive workforce,” concludes Govender.

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