For the first time, the WEF had an unprecedented focus on mental health calling for more support for affected people in the workplace. Photo: GCIS

CAPE TOWN – For the first time, the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting had an unprecedented focus on mental health, calling for more support for affected people in the workplace.

Speaking on a panel at the meeting of global leaders in Switzerland, Prince William shared his belief that employers have a vital role in promoting mentally healthy societies and workplaces.

South African research involving more than 1 000 employed and previously employed workers or managers in the country has proved that depression is not just a “bad mood” – 74 percent of respondents reported experiencing trouble concentrating, forgetfulness and/or indecisiveness last time they were depressed. According to nearly half of the participants with depression, the concentration was the cognitive symptom that most affected their ability to perform work tasks as they normally would.

Myrna Sachs, head of Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions, says the company has long championed mental health in the workplace, including a chapter on it in the 2018 Alexander Forbes Benefits Barometer research. “Employers need to start giving emotional and mental health the same priority as physical health. This means putting pressure on medical aid providers, EAP providers and insurers to provide more comprehensive resourcing,” Sachs said. “People fear being stigmatised at work rather than supported if they reveal their mental illness. To make dignity in mental health a reality requires every member of society working together and requires action both in the community and the workplace.”

“A South African IDeA Report in 2015 revealed that of the 80 percent that had taken time off work because of depression, 32 percent did not tell their employer the reason due to the stigma that is still affiliated with mental health. While half of managers don’t know how many sick days are due to employees with depression, only a quarter of those surveyed felt they had good support systems in place when dealing with an employee with depression or mental health issues. From the research, it was noted that more than 80% of those diagnosed with depression continued to work during their last episode. This brings us to ponder the effectiveness of the support within the workplace and the productivity of the workforce, and how it can be improved,” Sachs said.

How companies can help their employees:

  • Show that you can give them access to appropriate support services – train managers, front-line supervisors and colleagues to recognise warning signs and know when to make referrals or seek help themselves.
  • Be flexible in terms of work arrangements when stress or mental health is a factor – implement policies that offer continued support to employees who need treatment, hospitalisation or disability leave.
  • Have a policy that helps employees settle back into the workforce when the time is right.
  • Recognise there may be financial concerns in seeking adequate treatment and create a policy for that.
  • Constantly monitor whether initiatives and interventions introduced are actually working.
  • Institute absenteeism management in the workplace, not as a punitive measure, but to ensure employees are assisted early and get the correct support they require.

“Understand your workforce through engagement surveys, absenteeism and retention data. Articulate what it means for your employees and their families to thrive. It is time for companies to demonstrate that they listen and care, and as employers, start the conversation.”

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