Mental well-being is essential to ensure a productive workforce. Here’s why.

On the verge of completing its second year, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected each of us unfathomably.

Seen as the most daunting of its effects initially, its implications for physical health and the resulting economic fragility have left businesses overburdened and economies faltering.

Equally baffling, though less deliberate, was its influence on mental health – of the general public and employees in particular. Whether behind counters or in front of desktops, managing clients or delivering projects, employees were faced with a
an incredible amount of stress, their well-being undermined by increasing levels of economic uncertainty, high expectations and total burnout.

“Covid started the conversation about the importance of emotional and mental health to a healthy business and / or country,” notes Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and physician at The LightHouse Arabia, an accredited provider of training in first aid in mental health (MHFA) in the United Arab Emirates.

“For the first time in history, the impact of employee well-being was so directly apparent in the corporate sector. Governments and businesses needed to be careful, and mental health could no longer be seen as something of “personal issues”.

The figures confirm a broad consensus that the impact of the pandemic on mental health and well-being has been colossal. According to a study conducted last year by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence, 2020 was the most stressful year in history for the global workforce. The study, which also interviewed workers in the United Arab Emirates, found that 91% of people in the country said their mental health issues at work negatively impacted their family life, while 77% said that ‘they would rather talk to a robot than their manager about anxiety and stress at work.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs in the MENA region have also come under considerable pressure, a report from EMPWR, WAMDA and Microsoft for Startups suggested. Up to 35.9% of startup founders rated their mental health as “bad,” with 44.2% spending at least two hours a week trying to relax.

Given that only 2% of healthcare budgets in the MENA region are currently being deployed to tackle mental health, the impact of the pandemic on young entrepreneurs and young talent could lead to an economic burden of $ 1,000 billion. ‘by 2030, the report adds.

“Mental well-being is more than ever a priority. Businesses must respond to employee health issues or risk the costs of stress and burnout. Indeed, there is no going back since employers take responsibility for finding ways
to give their team the support and flexibility they need, which is ultimately to their advantage, ”said Sawsan Ghanem, deputy managing director of public relations firm Active DMC.

Although the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives may have varied, depending on the degree of impact, one principle continued to hold true for everyone: People need more support, whether from colleagues. , employers or in the form of relaxed policies.

“Employees need to be alert to any significant changes they may see in team members – personality or performance at work, as this can be a sign that a person is struggling,” says Sneha John, psychologist. clinician at Medcare Camali mental health clinic.

“Managers should make themselves available to staff to talk about their fears, answer questions and reassure them about work and other issues that may arise. Adopting an employee assistance program developed by academia professionals could help
equip supervisors with the resources to recognize and manage mental wellness issues.

“Wellness webinars and one-on-one consultations by mental health professionals should be a regular practice in organizations. Employers should create opportunities for confidential conversations in an individual setting. The empathy and confidence of a manager can go a long way in providing a safe space for employees, ”she adds.

Ring in the change
Working from home has become a lifeline for business continuity at the heart of the Covid-19 crisis. While preventative measures and widespread vaccination campaigns have encouraged employees to return to their offices, the pandemic has sparked a larger discussion about holistic wellness. In the weeks and months following the health crisis, professionals have signaled their intention to rethink their priorities and opt for a flexible approach to work, requiring key changes in policy manuals. According to 2021 Cigna 360 ° Well-being According to a survey, 41 percent and 43 percent of office workers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, respectively, prefer to work from home full-time to some extent.

Several companies around the world are aligning their policies with the upward trend to ensure greater productivity and ensure employee satisfaction.

PwC has reportedly allowed 40,000 of its US-based employees to work remotely full-time. Meanwhile, Facebook said that as of June 15, it opened up remote working at all levels of the company, allowing any employee whose work could be done virtually to request remote work. Amazon also offered more flexibility to its employees last month. “For our corporate roles, instead of specifying that people work three days a week in the office, we’ll leave that up to individual teams,” Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said in a message to employees. Meanwhile, in June, the multi-service platform Careem launched a pilot program, asking employees in the United Arab Emirates to return to the office one day a week. This program is ongoing, until further notice.

Several companies are also testing the concept of a “condensed” work week to provide employees with greater flexibility. “Whether or not the four-day week is the right fit for a business to stay competitive, a serious discussion about flexible and short work hours is something all organizations will need to address in a world where technology not only defines our social habits, but also our professional lives, ”says Ghanem.

Wise investment
Recognizing the importance of mental health leads to the next logical step – seeking help. However, the “non-traditional medical costs” associated with mental health can turn out to be personal expenses, deterring employees from seeking help.

“It’s still a huge problem in mental health. We need a massive policy change whereby insurance providers and legal entities are mandated to cover mental health coverage, even in the most basic insurance policies, ”said the Minister. Dr Afridi.

“Health coverage is currently based on a historical idea that mental and physical health are two distinct parts of a person’s health and well-being – this belief is outdated and false. Insurance companies clearly understand and know that poor mental health will lead to serious physical health problems. In fact, over 80% of all primary health problems are induced by stress (emotional and mental). In 2020, only 51% of WHO Member States reported that their mental health policy or plan was fully aligned with international and regional human rights instruments, far from the target of 80%. Offsetting the financial costs associated with mental well-being and providing employees with access to quality support services will result in greater inclusiveness.

As people take a holistic view of health, conversations about mental wellness are getting stronger and stronger. According to the Cigna survey, globally, 68 percent of respondents cited mental health as a very important influence on personal health and well-being, while physical health was 67 percent.

“Employees today are more aware of their health care needs and are looking for an enhanced health insurance package that offers peace of mind. It has the potential to grow from a ‘nice to have’ for many employees to a ‘must have’ that may well influence career decisions, “he added. With fair mental health care, conversations separate on related support services and better knowledge of general employee well-being, the quote, “It doesn’t get any easier. You just get stronger” might justify a change in 2022.

It might get easier too.

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