10 tips for improving mental health at work

It is always important to recall the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s definition of health: Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. It is also good to remember that these three components of health are not mutually exclusive but very closely intertwined. A problem in one area of health often exerts an influence on other aspects. Thus, it goes without saying that what goes on in the work place, the culture and ambience, will impact on our physical as well as mental well-being. How can we improve mental health in the work place for everyone?

The major problems in most work environments stem from oppressive superiors: bullying, insults, humiliation and embarrassment; psychological, physical or sexual harassment; work overload; hostile and unfriendly environment; poor or irregular remuneration and rigid working hours and lack of consideration or flexibility for example – to pregnant or nursing mothers.

What can we do:

  1. Talk about the problem: Suggest, if it does not currently exist, the introduction of a 5- 10 minutes’ health talk during staff meetings. This is easy to justify as everyone would like to get free health tips. Or share such articles and stimulate discussions in your office.
  2. Engage with your employers: Help employers and the management staff to appreciate that it is to their benefit to invest in the emotional wellbeing of their staff. Happy and motivated staff are more productive and loyal. It is estimated that the lost productivity due to depression and anxiety alone costs 1 trillion US dollars every year.
  3. Be nice to each other: Encourage everyone to be nice and to have a warm and friendly office environment. When you are nice to each other, it stimulates the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. These helps to lift your mood, makes you feel cared for and appreciated, and increases your alertness and motivation to work. Such a work environment is one you would look forward to every day.
  4. Mentor junior colleagues: It was clear from the scenarios utilised previously that in every work environment – regardless of whether it is hospitals or the educational sector, senior colleagues often come across as harsh and intolerant bullies to their younger colleagues. Sometimes, you find an adult so completely shattered by how harshly he or she has been dealt with by a superior at work that they simply break down and weep. We should be more humane and considerate – even while correcting mistakes.
  5. Equity and justice as guiding principles: Equality, is a concept that is very different from equity. Equality implies giving to A exactly what has been given to B. But B may not be in need of what was given to A, or A may actually require say 80 percent while B genuinely requires only 20 percent. Allocating according to need is equity. For example, it is clear that a pregnant woman who has just put to bed is certainly in greater need of time to recuperate and nurse the new born baby for a while than the father. Thus, it is equitable for women to have a long maternity leave.
  6. Reduce stigma and discrimination: Many people with a diagnosis of mental health challenges are too ashamed and embarrassed to come out. For fear that people will laugh at them, they dismiss them as lazy or no longer consider them worthy of any responsibility.
  7. Provide a supportive and enabling environment for people to feel safe to share their health challenges – knowing they will receive support and understanding.
  8. Stop workplace harassment and bullying: The organisation should have zero tolerance for workplace bullies who psychologically terrorise other workers, or engage in physical or sexual harassment in the workplace. Their punishment should be decisive.
  9. Appreciate and reward loyalty and hard work: There is a lot of satisfaction in being appreciated and rewarded for hard work. Even if it is a small ceremony at the end of each month, quarter, or year; simple words of appreciation for outstanding staff and some reward will go a long way to help them feel appreciated and valued.
  10. Flexible working hours: In many countries across the world, there is increasing recognition that you don’t have to come to the office from 8am to 4 pm every weekday to be productive. So, in some companies and organizations, staff can negotiate days to work from home, or agree to work half days, or some days in a week, in order to have time for other things such as looking after a child with a disability at home; or to accommodate picking the children from school.

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