Mental health at the workplace

90,000 hours – that’s the amount of time an average worker spends at work. With such a significant chunk of one’s life spent with managers and colleagues, the work environment should be one of nurture, understanding and empathy.

Unfortunately, employees are often under pressure to perform at their highest level all the time.  This is despite times when they are feeling low physically or mentally, or are troubled by challenging situations at home or in their personal lives. 

Coupled with office politics and toxic colleagues, it is no wonder employees can feel burned out. An unpleasant workplace can also lead to disengaged workers who are unproductive, or who quit to move to greener pastures. 

Stress-related issues are also taking a toll financially. The American Psychological Association notes that stress costs companies about US$300 billion a year owing to accidents, employee absenteeism, employee turnover, lower productivity and insurance costs.

As such, it is in the interest of employers to prioritise their employees’ mental well-being. But first, employers need to understand that mental health is an evolving state, and not a fixed one.

Mental health is a continuum

According to American sociologist Corey Keyes, mental health should be viewed as a spectrum – a continuum in which “languishing”, a state where there is a “lack of mental health” where a person feels uninterested and fatigued; to “flourishing”, when a person feels positive, engaged and motivated.

While languishing employees don’t necessarily suffer from major mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, they could be better engaged and mobilised, in order to elevate their mental well-being and increase their performance.

How can employers lift the mood of the workplace to get their staff from languishing to flourishing?

For one, employers could survey their staff why they feel the way they do, in order to better retain and support them, according to Matt Erhard, managing partner at Canadian recruiters Summit Search Group.

“Survey employees to find out why they’re feeling ‘blah’. There are a lot of factors that can cause low morale. Knowing the exact source of the problem in your team can help you better refine your approach to address it. This kind of survey can also help start a conversation about morale and workplace mental health across the team,” says Erhard.

Reminding employees of they are making a difference and how they are integral to the organisation is another way to reignite their sense of purpose, says Rich Heller, coach and therapist.  Oftentimes, employees can lose sight of the bigger picture after getting lost in the day to day activities.

Taking charge of your own mental health

Executive and wellness coach Dr Katrina Gisbert-Tay says employees have the power to take care of their own mental health too.

According to a CNBC article, she noted that employees “should consider what boundaries they can set for themselves”, so employees can learn to navigate workplace tensions while keeping their jobs.

“No matter what industry, job you have, you may have the same scenario. The question that I ask my clients is where is your personal agency? What are the requests that you need to make? How are you going to take care of yourself?” said Dr Gisbert-Tay in the article.

“Those more powerful questions than asking, ‘Should I quit this job?’

What are workforce leaders doing to help workers handle their mental health? 

This time last year, Young NTUC, the youth wing of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) launched a WSQ-certified course to support mental well-being at Singapore workplaces. 

The course, which aims to improve mental health in the workplace by teaching psychological first aid skills – such as how to identify common stress indicators and how to support those in need, will teach participants compassionate communication methods that will help them engage with peers in a non-intrusive manner. 

Participants will also have access to resources and contacts they can tap on to provide further help. 

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