Workplace Mental Health in Times of Adversity

By: Samantha Tan, Programme Coordinator, SOLS Health


COVID-19 has affected everyone around the world in different ways. Some have lost their loved ones, some are dealing with the fear of death, and others have recovered successfully from COVID-19 but fear contracting it again. However, another detrimental consequence of this pandemic entails the loss of jobs for many, and young graduates become unemployed, as businesses are forced to cut down on production.

As the government braces for the “worst economic recession” in Malaysian history, stress levels among Malaysian workers are on the rise. In 2019, an AIA report found that 51% of the 17,595 employees surveyed had reported high levels of stress - this figure is likely to have increased, given the current circumstances.

As employers struggle to keep their businesses running and employees feel pressured to prove their worth to avoid retrenchment, it is only expected that stress levels would increase. However, by failing to acknowledge the harmful effects of COVID-19 on the mental wellbeing of both employers and employees alike, these stressors may factor into the development of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the loss of productivity from depression and anxiety can cost up to USD $1 trillion per year. Experts suggests that depression and anxiety in the workplace can manifest as:

  1. High absenteeism

  2. The inability to concentrate

  3. The inability to make decisions

  4. Poor time management skills

In 2018, Malaysia experienced an estimated RM 14.46 billion in loss of productivity due to poor employee mental wellbeing. Furthermore, the majority of the Malaysian workforce comprises millennials, a group that has been known to suffer from a high prevalence of depression and anxiety. More recently, a study in April found that 60% of 1,084 participants surveyed had reported mental health issues during the Movement Control Order (MCO). These figures strongly suggest, that there would be a massive loss of talent and productivity for the Malaysian economy if mental health issues are neglected. On the other hand, organisations that invest in improving their employees’ mental health can expect up to four times an increase in productivity and revenue versus the invested amount, according to the WHO.


What can organisations do to improve the mental wellbeing of their employees, especially during COVID-19?

  1. Understand what mental health is and what affects one’s mental health

  2. Create a culture of acceptance within your organisation in order to have a mutual understanding that everyone comes from different backgrounds

  3. Create an environment that opens up communication between lower management and upper management, where concerns can be shared and addressed. For example, create forums or peer support groups.

  4. Train employees and managers on how to provide support to struggling colleagues. For smaller organisations, perhaps invest in training managers on how to respond to and support struggling employees.

  5. Invest in mental health support for the organisation

  6. Invest in training to build resilience

  7. Set reasonable expectations for the organisation. For example, consider the difficulties of working from home.

To help put these steps into practice, companies could consider investing in employee assistance programmes (EAPs). EAPs provide a range of services aimed at addressing and resolving issues experienced by employees in order to maintain or improve their workplace productivity. EAP services include trainings and workshops, counselling, or organisational feedback that help employees with issues such as workplace conflict, personal problems such as relationship challenges, financial or legal problems, wellness matters and other issues that could be affecting their performance.

At the end of the day, it is important to keep in mind that we are all only human. Now more than ever, employers need to recognize and value the collective psychological wellbeing of their workers, in striving for resilience and staying power amid the ongoing economic crisis. Investing in EAPs to support employees’ psychological wellbeing is a worthwhile move, as these services will contribute towards improving overall business sustainability in the long run.


Resources:

1. https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/04/584694/workplace-covid-19-stress

2. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2020/05/589338/malaysia-facing-worst-economic-recession-its-history

3. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2019/11/539026/survey-malaysian-employees-are-overworked-sleep-deprived-unhealthy

4. https://www.who.int/mental_health/in_the_workplace/en/

5. http://workplacementalhealth.org/Mental-Health-Topics/Depression

6. http://workplacementalhealth.org/Mental-Health-Topics/Anxiety-Disorders

7. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2020/02/566428/mental-health-costs-malaysia-rm1446bil-or-over-one-cent-its-gdp

8. https://www.theedgemarkets.com/content/advertise/millennials-are-most-stressedout-generation-work

9. https://www.dosm.gov.my/v1/index.php?r=column/cthemeByCat&cat=149&bul_id=d1k5WU1GV3kzeUdJS0E4N210VGZSUT09&menu_id=U3VPMldoYUxzVzFaYmNkWXZteGduZz09

10. https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/04/30/study-shows-where-depression-anxiety-strike-during-mco/

11. http://workplacementalhealth.org/Mental-Health-Topics/Resilience

12. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/how-to-support-mental-health-at-work.pdf

13. https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/454574_0119_bl1909_acc.pdf

14. https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Building_Organizational_Resilience_in_the_Face_of_COVID-19.pdf?daf=375ateTbd56

15. http://workplacementalhealth.org/Mental-Health-Topics/Employee-Assistance-Programs

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