Business as usual for mental health simply will not do
5 min read
Authors: Ann Bugeja, Christine Borg Millo & Miguel Mallia
On the 10th of October, the world celebrated World Mental Health Day, acknowledging the need for a sustainable and constructive mental health environment at the workplace, now more than ever. The escalation in work-related mental health issues, namely work-induced stress and anxiety, has made it more evident that there is the necessity to call for increased awareness and stricter community action, including in any employment setting, to establish and maintain a healthy and collaborative workforce.
The World Health Organisation (“WHO”) defines mental health as: “more than the absence of mental health conditions. Rather, mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, to realise their abilities, to learn well and work well, and to contribute to their communities”.
Legislation on Mental health
From the outset, one can immediately note that local law falls short on tackling mental health issues in employment. Furthermore, the only legislative protection that local legislation offers in relation to mental health at the workplace, is found in the Occupational Health and Safety Authority Act (Chapter 424 of the Laws of Malta).
According to this Act, and as a matter of public interest, it is the employer’s responsibility to safeguard and promote the psychological, physical, and social well-being of the employee. This is guaranteed on the basis of the following general principles of prevention:
- The avoidance of risk;
- The identification of hazards associated with work;
- The evaluation and control of risks which cannot be avoided;
- Taking necessary measures to reduce risk as much as reasonable practicable.
The WHO lays out an elaborative set of guidelines which increase the awareness on mental health at work, a mental health at work policy brief and a mental health action plan presented until 2030. The WHO transparently recognizes the importance of mental health and is aware that good mental health at the work place urges a co-operative employment relationship between the employer and the employee. The transformation of focus to shift attitudes and addresses risks to mental health whilst also strengthening systems of care are key points that the WHO presents to accelerate the implementation of a comprehensive mental health action plan, applying the following three (3) values:
- Deepen the value and commitment we give to mental health;
- Reshape environments that include mental health (including workplaces);
- Strengthen mental health care by changing where, how and by whom mental health care is delivered and received.
The importance of a Mental Health Policy
Having a mental health policy in place at any business, company or firm aims to serve as a guide for both employers and employees to ensure and properly conserve a healthy and quality level of mental stability at the place of work. The adoption of a mental health policy would apply to all business employees, executives, directors and staff members, and it would allow for common rules and procedures to be known and understood by, and applicable to, all employees. The policy essentially serves as a stepping stone to achieve a communicative and transparent workplace, enhancing co-operation among the employers and employees, while reducing any negative factors which will hinder good mental health at the place of work.
Mental health policies should be based on a non-tolerance approach so that the employer can focus on eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health and can further abrogate harmful behaviours and procedures which may leave a negative impact on the individual’s mental wellbeing. To reflect a preventative approach towards mental health, the following elements must be carefully considered:
- Positivity in recruitment, where the employer should ensure that interviewing staff is competent and adequately trained to select and recruit new employees;
- Awareness of mental health, by organising any required informative sessions to increase recognition on any issue;
- Job security and flexibility, especially when offering flexible work schedules;
- Support, where fairness and consistency when dealing with all employees, especially those suffering from any mental health condition remain a priority;
- Training, offered to staff members on how to properly handle any staff who suffers from a mental health issue;
- Protection from harm, to ensure all employees’ work in a safe physical and psychological environment;
- Connection and community, when promoting a social support and sense of belonging at the workplace;
- Work-life harmony, endeavouring to increase the employee’s autonomy over their own work;
- Mattering at the workplace, which is centred around the human need of dignity, meaning, respect and value;
- Opportunity for growth, through professional progression opportunities made available to the employee; and
- Equality to maintain a diverse and inclusive workplace environment while protecting the rights of employees.
Other factors worth including in the policy would be the element of strict confidentiality when an employee openly communicates their issues, in recognition of the sensitivity on such matters and also appropriate management of conflict resolution and prevention of any discriminatory treatment.
By adopting a mental health policy, an organization can cultivate a positive culture which enhances the workplace by building meaningful and professional relationships of staff members while maintaining their constant productivity. It is imperative for the employer to keep in mind that implementing a mental health policy that caters for all employees as a whole, by preventing absenteeism and staff turnover while also enhances productivity and collaboration of its members. The ultimate goal must always be to prevent the detrimental consequences that poor mental health in the workplace brings about to the employees and to the overall work force.