Dealing with mental health struggles in the workplace

Friday September 6 2019

Health. Research shows  58 per cent of

Health. Research shows 58 per cent of companies have no workplace wellness programmes. Photo by Edgar R. Batte 

By ISMAIL MUSA LADU

The effect of spending more time at the workplace, manifests itself negatively in the company’s bottom line, according to studies undertaken at both industry and global level.

No matter the economic sector you are involved in, analysts as well as human resource personnel interviewed for this article, say the effect of fatigue resulting from spending too much time in the workplace affects productivity, which in turns takes a toll on the profitability levels (the bottom line) of the company/business.

In May 2019, the World Health Organisation announced that burnout had become a global disease.
The condition was closely associated with the workplace, resulting from chronic stress that had not been managed well.

A study by the same global organisation revealed that depression and anxiety cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion (about Shs3.6 quadrillion) each year in lost productivity.

However, it also noted that for every $1 (about Shs3,670) put into scaled up interventions for common mental disorders, there was a return of $4 (about Shs 14,680) in improved health and productivity.

Closer home, Minet Uganda, one of the leading risk advisors in the business, carried out a study of 113 companies in the country, through the Human Resource Association of Uganda, aimed at finding out whether workplaces had wellness and employee assistance programmes.

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The result although obvious was revealing. According to the study, about 58 per cent of the companies had no wellness programmes, and of those which did, 78 per cent of them lacked a component on mental health and stress management.

Also, 84 per cent of these businesses had never trained their managers and team leaders in understanding workplace mental health.

Stick or the carrot
Dr Hillary Kuteesa, a psychiatrist based at Butabika Hospital, cautioned management against taking punitive measures against under performing employees, and rather encourage them to improve their health and performance, through thoughtful and educative engagements.

“It is better to motivate them to take personal responsibility for their health and make sustainable changes, rather than harshly telling them off,” Dr Kuteesa says.

The depression burden in Uganda now stood at over 1.4 million people, with the world numbers standing at 300 million, he says. He attributed this to overwhelming work pressure.

Some hope
Already it seems employees are slowly beginning to realise the effect of fatigue on their physical and mental conditions, explaining why there are increased demands for fitness classes and regimes, some of which are being conducted within workplace premises, something that was unheard of decades ago.

Companies are also increasingly encouraging their employees to keep fit, well knowing the effects of work burnout on productivity. For example, one of the leading insurance brokers in the country has moved to fix this problem by introducing an employee wellness campaign which seeks to promote healthy living amongst staff.

Speaking at the launch in Kampala recently, Maurice Amogola, the Chief Executive Officer, Minet Uganda, noted that the drive was a result of the realisation that the current workplace demanded consistent high levels of productivity and performance, with hardly any sufficient breaks granted to workers.

Also, he added globalisation and changes in technology meant millennials, who currently make up the largest workforce percentage, were under immense pressure to deliver on unrealistic targets year on year, a factor that significantly affected their lives.

“It’s a commonly accepted fact that adults spend a third of their lives at work. So it is imperative that management actively contributes to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of employees.

A healthy workforce has a direct effect on the overall performance of a business,” Amogola told Human Resource Managers, at the breakfast event held at Golden Tulip hotel.

Joshua Mwangi, the Minet Kenya, Wellness Manager, noted that anxiety, stress, depression plus drug and substance abuse ranked among the most common mental health problems at the workplace.

Dealing with mental health

According to Jennifer Male, Minet Uganda’s Health Care Manager, designed programmes that will help employees at workplaces cope with stress, anxiety and depression include professional interventions involving health risk assessment, counselling, trainings, capacity building, occupational health safety programs, physical activity, nutrition programmes and financial literacy classes.

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