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The lack of knowledge on why mental health is important and the understanding of how mental well-being can affect all aspects of life continue to hinder the progress of mental health awareness. COVID-19 may have elevated this awareness to the foreground, but there is still much more to learn and do.

When we have a physical ailment like discomfort or fever, we go to the doctor right away to get it diagnosed. However, our mental health doesn’t get quite the same level of attention from us. As it has been stigmatised for far too long, mental health problems are frequently tucked away, hidden from others and even ourselves.

In line with the celebration of World Mental Health Day, we want to take this opportunity to help spread awareness about mental health and what HR leaders can do to support mental health in the workplace especially now in a post-pandemic where everything has changed for us.

how has working from home affect mental health?

For some people, working from home has taken a great impact on their mental wellness. To focus on work, some of us shut ourselves in our study room for at least eight hours a day. Coping with work from home is not easy for everyone, even if we are extremely productive.

Stress and isolation may play a big part in one's emotions which can have a direct health cost to anyone. Because of the absence of social connection and self-isolation, working from home may have exacerbated some mental health concerns. Some people may feel trapped or helpless when working from home. They may not have a favourable working environment at home or may be exposed to everyday emotional triggers, which may exacerbate their stress-related mental health issues.

This may unintentionally bleed over into their professional lives, causing more negative work experiences. Employees’ connections with co-workers and ability to fulfil deadlines suffer as well as their productivity levels when they lose focus. Employees are also less likely to address their own mental health concerns since they are unsure of their options or whether speaking out about their problems will affect their future job advancement.

mental wellness
mental wellness

The topic of mental health has to become more prevalent in our daily interactions in order to reduce social stigma and inspire more individuals to seek help in managing and coping with it.

HR and business leaders must not only make it a priority to cultivate an open culture of empathy, but they must also lead by example.

Role modelling is an effective way to de-stigmatise open dialogues about mental health difficulties. Another option is to form an internal task force to ensure that employees have easy access to professional assistance without fear of being judged.

4 ways to support mental health in the workplace

As an employer, how can you deal with mental health at work and what support can you give? The most important first step to managing mental health is education.

1. provide adequate resources for employees to learn how to manage mental health

Companies can engage healthcare professionals to educate employees about the different types of mental health conditions and how to effectively manage these issues. This will help equip employees with the knowledge and skills to help themselves or their colleagues better manage their mental health issues and improve their mental wellness.

Employers can also appoint some supervisors to receive professional training from a psychologist or therapist and become ‘mental health diplomats’ to cultivate positive mental well-being and drive these discussions in the workplace. This can be a face-to-face support or can be done virtually.

2. introduce mental health day leaves

Employers may also consider a less traditional approach such as introducing Mental Health Day leaves. Give employees a small number of paid leave days a year that they can use to pay special attention and care for their emotional or mental well-being, no questions asked.

This would lessen the stigma around mental health and enable employees to be more forthcoming to their employers about their challenges and asking for help so as to prevent burnout.

mental health awareness
mental health awareness

3. have casual regular check-ins

Employers could also start a “Morning Coffee & Chat” to have casual chit-chatting sessions with their staff. The rule is simple: no shop talk. To facilitate such conversations, someone in the team can decide on a theme or topic to chat about and everyone has the same amount of time to contribute. The topics could be about the latest blockbuster or TV series, new restaurants to visit or new workout routines to share and try.

4. organise a virtual team experiences

Another fun and social initiative employers could introduce would be an Airbnb Online Experience, to help their staff take their minds off work for a certain period of time. These ‘online experiences’ are conducted through video. Led by a guide or expert, employees can have a different non-work ‘experience’ to recharge their mind and look for new creativity.

Such virtual experiences would include, “zen eating to enrich your life”, an “animal sanctuary virtual experience”, “meditation with a japanese buddhist monk”, viewing “New Zealand nature highlights” and “remote rescue goats”.  These virtual experiences can help them to look forward to some semblance of normality once borders are reopened.

These kinds of activities would foster deeper relationships between colleagues, and keep everyone engaged especially when remote working limits social interactions within the teams. This would let everyone feel like they are heard, and encourage them to get to know each other better to form new relationships.

In addition, team leaders can also initiate an online team game to play together with their employees. This will break some ice and lighten the mood as everyone can interact with each other and have some fun playing games.

encourage employees to take leave for better work-life balance

Employees are less likely to take time off during this pandemic because they are "already at home." Employees with mental health concerns may be unaware of the psychological implications of working from home and may require time off. It is critical to take care of our thoughts and look after our mental well-being, especially during these times of uncertainty.

Encourage your employee to take a day off to focus on themselves if you observe that they are easily distracted or have difficulty engaging with their coworkers. You never know when you might come across someone who is struggling, and even the tiniest gestures can make a huge impact. Encourage them to get professional treatment to manage their mental health, or talk to a close friend or family member about what they're going through.