The World Health Organization has stated that “The COVID-19 pandemic has created a crisis like no other in our lifetimes” One aspect of this crisis has been identified as the effect on the populations mental health, including mental health at work – and the serious implications that employers are anticipated to be facing now, and will continue to face for years to come.
Instances of common mental health disorders such as anxiety, stress and depression have all increased rapidly. The Office of National Statistics reports that in general they have seen an increase of more than double the number of adults experiencing depression than before the pandemic – from 10% to 21% of the population. Now carry this statistic alone through to the working environment and at any one time, at least one in five workers will be experiencing depression as a mental health problem.
Prior to the pandemic in the UK, approximately 440,000 cases of self-reported stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 9.9 million days of absence, or, 43% of all working days lost due to ill health every year. The economic cost to the country was estimated at £6.6 billion (30 billion AED). As if these baseline figures weren’t shocking enough, stress-related absence alone is reported to have risen around 40% across all companies over the last 12 months.
Specific to the UAE, recent research by Cigna showed that 88 percent of UAE employees are stressed out, one of the highest rates in the world, and that furthermore, 50 percent want to quit their jobs. These figures, coupled with the recent significant changes to the working landscape, have led many companies to the realisation that without seismic change they could be facing a tsunami of negative repercussions.
Forward thinking entities are proactively grabbing the opportunity to make impactful changes to the workplace. Frank and honest discussions are opening up around mental health and many companies are pushing the subject to the top of their health and safety agendas. IOSH, the global Institution of Occupational Safety and Health made it’s 2021 slogan “Let’s take care of our Mental Health together” with the aim to create awareness of mental health issues, how they affect ourselves, our colleagues and our workforce
Creating a healthy workplace
So what is driving workers poor mental health ? Workload pressures, tight deadlines, excess responsibility and lack of managerial support are cited as the main factors causing work-related mental health problems. Previously, it would likely have been presumed that a worker’s mental illness would have developed outside of the workplace. Chances are higher now that it would be recognized that an unhealthy work environment or a workplace incident could have caused or have contributed to the development of the mental illness.
Promoting mental health is an essential part of creating a safe and healthy workplace. Employers and workers both have roles to play in building a safe work environment; one that will not create or worsen mental health problems, and where workers with mental illness are supported.
All employers have a legal responsibility to take the appropriate steps to eliminate or minimize health and safety risks in the workplace; these obligations include the risks to mental health. Some starter suggestions to work towards creating a healthy workplace are:
- Increase awareness and dialogue around mental health to reduce stigma
- Promote and facilitate early help-seeking as one of your companies’ key strategies
- Identify possible practices or incidents within your workplace which may cause or contribute to the mental illness of workers
- Then work to systematically assess, seek control of, minimize or eliminate those risks
- Give extra support to Managers who can feel a great deal of pressure and responsibility to support their teams, whilst simultaneously managing their own issues
- Integrate your mental health strategies into your broader occupational health and safety management processes
In short, mental health should be treated with the same level of gravity within an organization as physical health and safety. If managed poorly or not managed at all, there is a human, business and economic cost driven by illness, absence, poor productivity, underperformance, high staff attrition rates and loss of talent.
For those concerned that there may be an insurmountable challenge ahead of them, the good news is that the workplace is already an optimal setting to create a culture of health and wellbeing. Communication structures are already in place, programmes and policies should come from one central HSE Team, data will be readily available to measure effects and track progress and employers are in a position to offer incentives and training to reinforce messages and healthy practices.
Mental Health at Work Matters is part 1 of a 2 part blog. The next blog will focus on making impactful change to employees mental health and the benefits that may be reaped by doing so.
Corporate OHS are UAE based Health and Safety Consultancy whose HSE Consultants offer expert resources and superior performance to give you greater results. We specialize in creating workable, user friendly HSE systems aligned to your business activities and operations. Our range of health and safety consultancy services includes; risk assessments, hazard identification and control measures, HSE management system development, implementation, improvement and review including locally compliant systems such as OSHAD and/or OSHJ. Accredited systems such as ISO 45001, ISO 14001 and ISO 9001, HSE legal compliance reviews, accident investigation, business continuity and crisis management, long term or project based HSE outsourcing.
In addition to project work and to aid companies in need of HSE resource but without a full-time headcount Corporate OHS also offers the option of a monthly retainer – giving access to HSE services without the burden of permanent cost. For enquiries or to find out more about our services, please visit our website at www.corporateohs.com or send an email to email@example.com