Cultivate workplace culture that supports mental wellness

Employees need to feel safe to discuss their mental health concerns without fear of judgment or repercussions. [iStockphoto]

In the post-pandemic era, we have often found ourselves in a situation where we work beyond the official eight-hour shifts long into the night to meet deadlines, oblivious of the disruption on the work-life balance. This could lead to low employee productivity because of burnout or mental related issues.

A 2021 report titled Kenya Mental Health Investment Case by the Ministry of Health estimated that in 2020 mental health conditions cost the Kenyan economy Sh62.2 billion. These annual costs included Sh5.5 billion in health care expenditure and Sh56.6 billion in lost productivity due to premature mortality, absenteeism and presenteeism. Furthermore, the report found that mental health challenges among public servants greatly affected their performance and productivity, thereby leading to poor delivery of services.

As the modern workplace continues to evolve, the relentless pursuit of success and productivity could unintentionally make companies overlook employees' mental wellbeing. On this premise, employers must embrace mental wellbeing in the workplace not only as a moral imperative but also as a smart business strategy.

Firstly, employers ought to acknowledge the importance of mental wellness by creating a conducive environment where employees feel safe to discuss their mental health concerns without fear of judgment or repercussions. This culture of openness not only reduces stigma but also encourages early disclosure, facilitates intervention and hence activates support systems, preventing a mental breakdown of a highly productive employee.

Secondly, just as part of their medical insurance cover for physical health, companies should consider providing comprehensive mental health support, including access to therapists, counsellors, and resources for stress management and resilience building. Investing in employee mental health is an investment in the long-term success of the organisation.

Thirdly, in providing access to mental health resources, employers need to sensitise employees and managers about the signs of mental health issues and how to provide support. Managers should be capable of recognising when an employee might be struggling as this can make a substantial difference. Managers should be able to help an employee facing mental health challenges to access the appropriate resources to promote their well-being.

Lastly, organisations should also focus on the broader workplace culture. This includes promoting teamwork, collaboration, and a sense of community among employees. When employees feel connected and valued, their mental wellness is naturally enhanced. Regular team-building activities, mentorship programmes, and wellness challenges can foster a sense of belonging and purpose.

To create a thriving and healthy work environment in today’s world will require commitment in dealing with mental health. By creating a workplace culture that supports mental wellness, organisations not only thrive but also contribute to a healthier and happier society. It is time to embrace mental wellness as an integral part of our work lives and pave the way to a more prosperous future for all.

-Ms Oyugi is the General Manager, Human Resource and Administration at CIC Group