In recent years, the subject of mental health has moved from referring to the wide range of existing mental illnesses which affect us physically and mentally, to also including the way we live with ourselves, inhabit collective environments and feel reality.
The development of the ongoing pandemic has brought mental health into sharp focus. In this environment, multinational organisations have been developing strategies to ensure health and wellbeing is the key factor of the business and its employees. Elaine Arden of HSBC says, “by relying on robust data and lived-experiences, businesses will get to the heart of what really matters most, develop suitable solutions and measure their impact on the mental health of their people….as businesses continue to navigate through periods of uncertainty and volatility, the need to collaborate and share best practices with peers and experts has never been more important” (Jan 2021).
The impact of Covid-19, which has caused an abrupt change in most people’s lives, is beginning to leave its mark with episodes of stress, anxiety and insomnia, among others. That being said, it is worth asking what role companies play in promoting optimal employee mental health.
A recent study Living, Working and Covid-19 Survey, which tracks labour market shifts, found that “approximately 40 percent of paid hours worked by employees were performed from home at the height of the crisis” (Burke-Kennedy, 2020).
This implies a sudden change in the lives of workers who, although don’t currently feel the costs of taking public transport or the discomfort of traffic congestion, are faced with sharing their intimate and restful space with their workspace.
This added to the overwhelming fear and confusion as a result of excess information about coronavirus, its progress and the uncertainty that threatens the future of employment and the economic crisis. It is vital for remote working to involve the creation of certain limits allowing workers to have a balance between personal or family life and work responsibilities.
Companies must be one step ahead by creating strategies to promote compliance with healthy working hours and also motivational activities and active breaks. This will mitigate day-to-day stress and, therefore, avoid mental health problems that end up seriously affecting not only the performance of the employee but also their quality of life. Actions as simple as giving each worker the right tools to carry out their work from home can make the difference between a stressful workday and a fully productive and calm one.
It is clear that the organisation’s productivity is a fundamental factor for business success and ultimately safeguarding jobs. However, insufficient attention to the wellbeing of the employees can lead to losses that even affect the financial situation. According to the World Health Organisation “depression and anxiety cost the world economy an estimated US $1 trillion in lost productivity annually” (Brunier, 2016).
Clearly, a happy worker with low-stress levels will be more productive at work and positively contribute to and impact the social and family ecosystem.
On the other hand, isolation has brought the dehumanisation of things we took for granted such as hugs, kisses and visits to a family member or a close friend. These have resulted in higher rates of anxiety, depression, disorders of the sleeping or eating, substance abuse and even suicide risks.
Promoting and strengthening conversation spaces in companies, using cameras as much as possible in conference calls and opening more moments in the day where there is direct contact and support between teams, will have an impact on the humanisation of all employees, the activities they perform and the time they spend working from home.
Although we are facing a higher level of unpredictability, employers can take the reins to take charge to support people. Remembering that we are in this together is the first step. Mental health care and the promotion of healthy habits must transcend lockdowns to be a pillar of management and monitoring to build healthy and happy societies that build a better future.