Corporate wellness is an integral component of the work environment. In an unhealthy work environment, there is decreased productivity, higher absenteeism, poorer work ethic and even less safety in the workplace. The 2nd to the 6th of July is Corporate Wellness Week- an opportunity for the raising of awareness surrounding the need to create a healthy work environment. SAFMH has compiled a press release to this effect. it appears below:
PRESS RELEASE: CORPORATE WELLNESS WEEK 2018
From the 2nd to the 6th of July is Corporate Wellness Week. A healthy workplace is key to ensuring productivity among employees. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the average person spends a third of their adult life in the workplace. It is thus important that the workplace is somewhere that employees can function at their peak. The WHO proposes the following:
A healthy workplace is one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace
According to Stoewan, (2016) organisations have- in addition to the obligation to provide physically safe work environments- the opportunity to foster healthy workplaces. She cites the psychosocial work environment as one such component. Indeed, the promotion of good mental health among workers is integral. Unfortunately, there is a prolific lack of focus on this component, with the effect that many employees work in a state of poor mental health. To this effect, the World Federation for Mental Health states that 10% of the employed population have taken time off for depression, that 6 in 10 people say poor concentration impacts on their concentration at work, that mental health conditions cost employers over $100 billion per annum and that 217 million workdays are lost per year. According to Hamdulay (2018), “mental illness in the workplace leads to decreased productivity, increased sick-related absenteeism, poor work quality, wasted materials and even compromised workplace safety.” Supporting employees’ mental well-being should therefore not be an option, but an imperative.
Often, employees do not feel comfortable addressing their mental health issues with their employers. A survey by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (2017) showed that only 1 in 6 employees who had a mental illness indicated that they would be comfortable disclosing this to their manager. This is undoubtedly due to actual or perceived stigma. Stigma is pervasive throughout society, but can be increasingly pernicious in the workplace, where employees fear reprisals for what they perceive to be weakness.
Brohan and Thornicroft (2010) highlight further difficulties, such as prospective employees’ job applications being turned down on account of their mental illness or cessation of people looking for work because they anticipate being discriminated against. They also illustrate that the disclosing of a mental illness in the workplace can lead to phenomena such as “micro-management, lack of opportunities for advancement, over-inferring of mistakes to illness, gossip and social exclusion.” Breaking through these barriers is vital in ensuring that a workplace is healthy.
Stoewan also pinpoints examples of other “psychosocial hazards” in the workplace. These include poor work organisation, poor organisational culture, issues surrounding “control and command management style” and “lack of support for work/life balance.”
There are ways in which an environment can be modified in order to make it conducive to the promotion of good mental health among employees. One example is that of reasonable accommodation. Provision for this is made in South Africa’s Basic Conditions of Employment Act. This concept denotes making justifiable allowances for an employee with an illness or a disability who can still fulfil the inherent requirements of their job provided certain adjustments are made. This however excludes instances where the accommodation would lead to unjustifiable hardship or restrictions upon the employer. Examples of this include flexible working hours, introducing tasks incrementally after an employee has been on sick leave, creating a quiet work environment, change of supervisor if required and reassignment of employee to an alternative post.
It is also important to raise awareness of mental health issues throughout the workplace- involving employees and their managers so as to dispel the aforesaid stigma and ensuring that it is made known what steps are to be taken in the event that an employee does develop a mental health issue or has a pre-existing condition. It is wise to put this in a policy document to create certainty.
The South African Federation for Mental Health is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) seeking to uphold and protect the rights of people with mental illnesses, psychosocial disabilities and intellectual disabilities. We offer training and resources on corporate wellness from a psychosocial support perspective. We call upon employers to facilitate mechanisms to achieve the objective of achieving a healthy workplace.
The WHO defines mental health as…
… a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.
Let us be healthy in our work.