Today in Cape Town, South Africa, the World Economic Forum held its annual meeting and for the very first time, had a primary focus of mental health. Of particular scrutiny was calling for more support of mental health in the workplace.

World Economic Forum Mental health

For the first time, the WEF had an unprecedented focus on mental health calling for more support for affected people in the workplace. Photo: GCIS

Speaking on a panel at the meeting with global leaders, Prince William expressed his belief that employers play a vital role in promoting mental wellness in society and the workplace.

Research out of South Africa – which involved more than 1,000 employed and previously employed workers or managers – proved that depression is not just a “bad mood”. In fact, 74 percent of respondents had trouble with concentration, forgetfulness and/or indecisiveness the last time they were depressed. Of the participants with depression, nearly half of them expressed that concentration with the cognitive symptom that gave them most trouble in performing tasks as usual.

Mental health in the workplace

 “Employers need to start giving emotional and mental health the same priority as physical health. This means putting pressure on medical aid providers, EAP providers and insurers to provide more comprehensive resourcing,” said Myrna Sachs, head of Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions. “People fear being stigmatized at work rather than supported if they reveal their mental illness. To make dignity in mental health a reality requires every member of society working together and requires action both in the community and the workplace.”

“A South African IDeA Report in 2015 revealed that of the 80 percent that had taken time off work because of depression, 32 percent did not tell their employer the reason due to the stigma that is still affiliated with mental health. While half of managers don’t know how many sick days are due to employees with depression, only a quarter of those surveyed felt they had good support systems in place when dealing with an employee with depression or mental health issues. From the research, it was noted that more than 80% of those diagnosed with depression continued to work during their last episode. This brings us to ponder the effectiveness of the support within the workplace and the productivity of the workforce, and how it can be improved,” Sachs said.

Ways companies can help their employees:

  • Access to appropriate support services – train managers, front-line supervisors and colleagues to recognize warning signs and know when to make referrals or seek help themselves
  • Have flexibility with work arrangements when mental health or stress is a factor – implement policies that offer continued support to employees who need disability leave, treatment, or hospitalization
  • Have a policy that aids employees when they settle back into the workforce upon return
  • Recognize there may be financial concerns in seeking adequate treatment and create a policy for that.
  • Regularly assess the proficiency of initiatives and interventions introduced to determine if they are actually working, and optimize when not
  • Develop absenteeism management in the workplace, not as a disciplinary measure, but to ensure employees are looked after early and get adequate support that they’ll require

Finally, Sachs urged that action from employers is required now.

“Understand your workforce through engagement surveys, absenteeism and retention data. Articulate what it means for your employees and their families to thrive. It is time for companies to demonstrate that they listen and care, and as employers, start the conversation.”


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