Should Men­tal-Health Days Be Com­pany Pol­icy?

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Yes Cassey Cham­bers Op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor at the South African De­pres­sion and Anx­i­ety Group (SADAG)

Wouldn’t it be nice if men­tal health was taken as se­ri­ously as other health con­di­tions? Most com­pa­nies have spe­cial poli­cies to as­sist em­ploy­ees with po­ten­tial health prob­lems – but how many com­pa­nies have work­place poli­cies to help em­ploy­ees who suf­fer from de­pres­sion or anx­i­ety?

Men­tal health in the work­place is still very stig­ma­tised. A 2017 SADAG sur­vey found that 69% of em­ploy­ees had re­ceived neg­a­tive re­sponses from their man­agers when dis­clos­ing their men­tal-health is­sues. As a re­sult, many em­ploy­ees are re­luc­tant to dis­close their sta­tus out of fear of be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against.

We know that de­pres­sion has an ef­fect on cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties such as con­cen­tra­tion lev­els, de­ci­sion-mak­ing and mul­ti­task­ing skills. So while an em­ployee with de­pres­sion might be at work, they are not nec­es­sar­ily able to per­form op­ti­mally.

Be­cause of in­creased pres­sure in the work­place, peo­ple are work­ing harder to en­sure job se­cu­rity, and stress can cause em­ploy­ees to take more sick days. Yet the con­cept of a men­tal-health day is al­most un­heard of in South Africa.

Stress can worsen anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion, and may lead to sui­ci­dal thoughts. If more em­ploy­ers adopted a men­tal­health pol­icy that en­cour­aged em­ploy­ees to take time off, it could lead to more pro­duc­tive work­ing en­vi­ron­ments and bet­ter job sat­is­fac­tion.

Bot­tom line? Men­tal health should mat­ter – even in the work­place.

No Natasha Mar­il­lier HR officer at As­so­ci­ated Me­dia Pub­lish­ing

The in­ten­tion of men­tal-health days is to en­sure that em­ploy­ees’ well­be­ing is looked af­ter. The ef­forts, how­ever noble, are slightly off the mark, though. Sim­ply pro­vid­ing time off can be use­ful in cop­ing with stress, but it presents a pas­sive ap­proach that treats the symp­toms and not the cause.

A re­spon­si­ble em­ployer should ask the dif­fi­cult ques­tions – such as, ‘What are the ma­jor fac­tors lead­ing to men­tal ex­haus­tion?’ – and con­sider how much is be­ing done to pre­vent th­ese fac­tors at work.

Recog­nis­ing an em­ployee as a holis­tic per­son and not just a re­source re­quires the un­der­stand­ing that one’s men­tal health could be ad­versely af­fected by in­flu­ences in­side and out­side of the work en­vi­ron­ment. It’s the em­ployer’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to help ad­dress this and pro­vide sup­port.

An em­ployer can of­fer sup­port through coun­selling, in­tro­duc­ing sup­port an­i­mals in the of­fice, or the op­tion to take your lunch break how­ever and when­ever you need it.

Cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive of­fice space is key. As an em­ployer, you can in­tro­duce mood­en­hanc­ing decor such as green, oxy­gen-pro­duc­ing plants; en­cour­age bite-sized breaks through­out the day to step out of the of­fice; and cre­ate med­i­ta­tion pods for time-outs. Sim­ple steps such as th­ese can have a game-chang­ing im­pact on em­ploy­ees’ men­tal health, im­prov­ing over­all pro­duc­tiv­ity.

I be­lieve that cre­at­ing an ac­com­mo­dat­ing, stress-free and pos­i­tive work­place is far more ben­e­fi­cial than sim­ply of­fer­ing men­tal-health days – which do lit­tle to help cre­ate a healthy work space, where you spend the ma­jor­ity of your time. ■

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