By Nico Strydom
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, which resulted in people having to work from home much more, again focused attention on mental health in the workplace.
Some studies found that employees’ mental health suffered more by having to work from home. The reasons for this are that people are inclined to work longer and harder when they work from home and because they never switch off.
According to Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions the Covid-19 pandemic grew the number of mental-health issues experienced by employees at many large South African undertakings. Their data shows that up to 60% of undertakings experienced an increase in disability claims due to mental and medical behavioural conditions, says Paresha Kala, senior consultant at Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions.
In the meantime a team of experts from the legal firm Webber Wentzel points out that it could be difficult to manage problems regarding mental-health in the workplace. Employers must manage employees with mental-health issues carefully and fairly and work with them rather than against them.
Mental-health issues in the workplace can lead to lower productivity and performance, poor work relations between colleagues and increased sickness-related absences. It can also compromise the safety of the workplace.
The experts at Webber Wentzel also point out that Covid-19 is only an attendant factor for mental-health issues in the workplace. Poor working conditions, excessive or insufficient work load and poor leadership can also contribute to mental-health issues among employees.
As far as the management of employees with mental-health issues in the workplace are concerned, employers should follow a proactive approach. This includes the education of employees regarding mental-health issues and how it can affect their performance or behaviour in the workplace; training of managers in how to identify signs of mental-health issues in an early stage so that the necessary interventions can take place as soon as possible; support of employees by maintaining regular communication with them and to encourage employees to use their annual leave to rest and recuperate.
According to Kala employers should protect their employees’ physical and mental wellbeing as well as possible. She proposes that policies and procedures be put in place to lessen unplanned absences and increase employees’ productivity and wellbeing.
“Assess the work environment so that employees can work more efficiently and comfortably or can perform other activities. Good ergonomic practices in the workplace can improve employees’ productivity and decrease injuries, sick leave, turnover and absences.”
Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions: https://www.alexanderforbes.co.za/download/afo/articles/Attachments/20210705-Supporting-employee-mental-health-and-well-being-during-lockdown.pdf en https://www.alexanderforbes.co.za/download/afo/articles/Attachments/20210701-Increased-claims-for-mental-health-conditions-at-SA-corporates.pdf