Sick leave should also include mental health days
Cape Town - Mental health issues have gained increasing awareness with a steady removal of the stigma when it comes to discussing the importance of mental health.
The workplace can be a constant source of stress, and can easily have a massive impact on the mental health of its employees.
An occupational therapist at Akeso Nelspruit, Marna Acker, says that due to the high unemployment rate and economic situation in South Africa, stress regarding job security is very prevalent.
“The awareness of being easily replaceable when making mistakes can cause anxiety, thus leading to more cases of present-ism due to being scared of taking time to take care of your well-being.
“Other factors may include: high workload due to a lack of resources, bullying at work, and feeling unworthy due to qualifications, experience or knowledge. These factors can lead to burnout,” Acker says.
She adds that due to the stigma regarding mental health, many employees might deny mental health problems.
“Due to the sigma, employees might be reluctant to participate in any activity associated with mental health, and not see the importance of such initiatives. Therefore, businesses can look into creating a supportive environment, or investing in a culture of support rather than labelling it.
“Holistic wellness days can create awareness of the importance of mental health. Investing in causes like mental health days can improve the well- being of the employee or start fighting the stigma regarding mental health, and in the bigger picture, might prevent absenteeism and loss of money for companies,” Acker says.
Mental Health Information Centre director Janine Roos weighs in, stating that while work is good for the mental health of people, it can lead to burnout and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations, as evidenced by the long, exhausting hours young doctors have to work.
“Companies should be aware of the fact that mental illness could cost them in terms of employee job satisfaction and productivity and should strive to make the workplace a stimulating, fair and happy place,” Roos says.
Labour analyst Michael Bagraim explains that from over 35 years of practice, his understanding is that stress and the competitive nature of employment nowadays affects about 30% of the staff of any particular operation.
“Often, people apply for sick leave relying on something else, as most employers won't accept stress or anxiety as a good reason to take off.
“I am not sure if mental health days should be something that businesses look into, but there should be regular assessments done of staff with regard to their productivity. In these assessments people can ask about a person's ability to cope mentally and whether they require any help,” Bagraim adds.
“The easiest way to tackle working environments for mental health is to ensure that people get constant feedback and indeed get positive feedback if they have done something correctly.
“Any problems with regard to mental health will certainly be taken as sick leave days. In terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, it is important to understand that if a person wants to be paid for their sick leave, they need a proper medical certificate for any two days taken in a six-week period.”
Bagraim says that if an employee comes forward with a request for help due to mental health issues, it is the employer's duty to ensure that the employee gets medical help.
“Every employer has a duty of care to their employees. We have seen too many issues arising where an employee has stated that they are suffering because of the stress or anxiety, and the employer does nothing about it. This can, in extreme cases, lead to fatalities.”
* Mental Health Information Centre of SA has a call centre with a 24-hour turnaround period from where we supply credible information and do referrals. Tel 021 938 9229 or email: [email protected] The website is also a database of mental health professionals and organisations which is accessible to the public should they need to contact someone www.mentalhealthsa.org.za@thelionmutters