Why every workplace needs a counsellor

A counsellor at every workplace is essential in helping employees develop effective solutions to problems and learn to look at issues with a more positive outlook. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Research has proven that there is a strong link between an employee’s psychological well-being and their productivity at work.  
  • When companies offer a package that includes confidential workplace counselling services, everybody wins.

Mental health is the axle of human life. However, despite its importance, it is often the least prioritised among health conditions. In such a competitive world, stress at any workplace is inevitable. Deadlines, big projects as well as economic hardships are some of the common factors contributing to increasing mental health challenges at work.

Despite this, few workplaces have a provision for an in-house counsellor. One has to book an appointment with their insurance provider a couple of days or even weeks later and all the time they are waiting, whatever reason they have for seeing a counsellor keeps escalating. By the time of the appointment, it is too late to save a situation or one has lost interest in seeking help.

According to Evelyn Kharono Lufafa, a counselling psychologist, a little stress can be a good motivator but when it happens consistently, it can start to wear an employee down. In the long run, this leads to a burnout that reveals itself as lack of motivation, apathy and disengagement.

It is important for your employees to know that they do not have to wait until they are in a crisis to go for therapy. Knowing that workplace counselling is a free option provides employees with security and can help reduce employee stress since many people struggle to get access to therapy on their own.

Mental health in Uganda
In many low-and medium-income countries such as Uganda where disease, ignorance, and poverty are common, a demand for steadfast mental healthcare may seem like a luxury but is a very important aspect of life.

Uganda is among the top six countries in Africa with high cases of depressive and anxiety disorders according to a 2020 report by the World Health Organisation. The country has only one mental health referral hospital (Butabika National Referral Menta Hospital in Kampala), which is often overwhelmed.

Private mental health centres are expensive and since there is a lot of ignorance and stigma associated with seeking mental health services, many people choose to keep quiet.

According to Adrian Kakinda, a counselling psychologist and member of the Uganda Counselling Association, there is need for subsidised provision of mental health services. 

Mental health challenges at work
Everyone must take a proactive approach to the mental health of their colleagues and familiarise themselves with the common signs and symptoms of poor mental health. 

Ali Male, a counselling psychologist, says failure to attend meetings, employees that tend to keep their video off during a zoom meeting may simply be disengaged or may also be working during the meeting to help appease their stress. Overindulgence in alcohol and drug abuse by an employee is also questionable.

“Stress at work can make mental health issues worse, leading to absenteeism and showing up late for work, which are signs of depression. Depression may make it difficult for one to complete their everyday tasks,” he says.

Not all people react to stress the same way. While some employees may overwork to avoid facing personal problems, others may have a decreased quality of work and reduced productivity depending on their personality.

Depression and anxiety can lead to trouble making decisions which further decreases the quality of work and disengagement at work. General withdrawal is another sign that your employees are struggling with mental health.

“An employee may be struggling if they do not speak up during meetings, sit by themselves at lunch, or take a while to respond to messages. They may also appear disconnected or disoriented and distracted,” Kakinda warns.

Many times, people put on a mask at work that they are okay but oftentimes they are irritable, angry, fearful and sad emotions can appear during a joke or conversation that was not meant to be emotional. It is a warning sign that someone may be having a mental health challenge.

Knowing when to see a therapist can be a little challenging sometimes since everyone has a bad day or goes through a rough patch every now and again.

However, Lufafa says, “if your issues or thoughts are negatively affecting relationships, work or school, or are leading to unhealthy coping behaviours such as alcoholism, have problems controlling your emotions, poor performance, inability to relate with others or manage stress, you should consider getting help.”

What to do
Resolving mental health issues at work starts with the organisation’s top management prioritising workers’ mental health as well as mitigating challenges that hike these challenges. 

Such incentives include timely payment of salaries and wages, promotion of teamwork among employees and putting up conflict resolution mechanisms to promote justice.  Providing a safe environment for talking and encouraging awareness about mental health is also essential.

Evelyn Kharono Lufafa, a counselling psychologist, says managers and supervisors need to be trained on how to spot risk factors and signs of stress, fatigue, anxiety or depression. Have an open-door policy for employees to share when they are going through a difficult time at home or are feeling overwhelmed and encourage them to embrace a healthy work-life balance.

“A counsellor at every workplace is essential in helping employees to better understand themselves, improve their coping skills, develop effective solutions to problems and learn to look at issues with a more positive outlook and different perspective,” she says.

Every person copes with mental health issues differently. It is, therefore, important to check on your employees to show that you care.

Although humans are built to work, we also require rest. Employers should provide flexible work arrangements for their employees with more flexible work hours, leaves, or work-from-home arrangements. Without proper rest, productivity drops regardless of employees' mental health state.