5 things employers can do to take mental health in the workplace more seriously

Taking preventive measures and investing in positive mental health can impact productivity, company culture, and staff turnover.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash
  • The mental health crisis will have a cumulative global impact of almost $16.3 trillion between 2011 and 2030.
  • Despite the previously held stigma, organizations of today are inclining towards advocation for better mental health among the workforce.
  • Businesses can take several actionable steps to promote mental well-being in the workplace.

    Despite the mental health awareness prevalent today, addressing it at the workplace still remains a taboo for many.

    A recent WHO-led study estimates that mental health disorders cost the global economy US$1 trillion each year in lost productivity. Rather alarming, isn't it?

    Workplace budgets for mental well-being usually concentrate on helping those who are going through an emotional crisis. However, it is just as important to focus on precautionary measures and building a mentally healthy workplace.

    Taking preventive measures and investing in positive mental health can impact productivity, company culture, and staff turnover. Here's how you can do so.

    1. Promoting awareness from the top down

    Changing previously held perceptions about mental health is a top-down process. It starts with the top management becoming advocates for improving mental health in the company.

    • Have the top executives share their experiences (or from their close ones) in meetings or staff interactions.
    • CEOs of organizations should advocate for mental wellness and promote a culture of acceptance and support. They should seek to normalize the mental health issues and address the stigma surrounding it.
    • The organization should be transparent about their support regarding such issues and work towards projecting vulnerability as a strength.

    2. Create an accepting culture

    Research suggests that workplace stressors which lead to burnout are a major reason for the declining mental health among employees. While work seems to be a contributing factor to mental illness, implementing the awareness for it would transform the company culture into a supportive one. Here's what you can do:

    • Set firm boundaries around availability. It might be a simple rule such as not answering work emails on weekends or while on holiday no work is to be done.
    • Encourage mindful breaks. Not only does it provide a reprieve from grueling work hours but it also allows employees to bond together.
    • Start conversations around mental health. It can be some simple steps such as conducting seminars around emotional well-being or simply providing counselors to talk to.

    3. Proper support

    Almost seven out of ten (69.1%) employees surveyed in a study said that they'd use a confidential mental health helpline provided by their employer while facing any mental health issues.

    This shows that employees are now more open to having discussions regarding their mental state. It is now in the hands of the employer to provide the appropriate support and assistance to the workforce in regard to their emotional well-being.

    • One way to do so is to implement an employee assistance program or mental health scheme that will help workers to actively monitor and manage their state of emotional health.
    • Similarly, encourage workers to participate in mental health screening tests. These free and anonymous tests are a great resource to evaluate where your emotional well-being is at.
    • Offer options through which your employees can prioritize their mental health like flexible working hours, work from home, or paid mental well-being days off.
    • Invest in employee engagement software. Causes of disengagement such as burnout, stress or alienation can be indicative of emotional turmoil in employees.

    4. Clearer information about support

    Once you have established a support system, you have to make it accessible to your workforce. That means that any employee who needs help concerning their mental state should know who to approach for it. Subsequently, the mental health scheme in your organization should be easy to use and easily understood by any employee in the company.

    5. Train the managers

    Managers are in the perfect position to assist—they have direct day-to-day contact with their team and also have direct contact with top management. Even the most basic of mental health training will equip managers to look out for signs of mental crisis and stress and also to create a supportive and inclusive environment.

    A study by The Lancet Psychiatry showed that after six months of providing mental health training, the managers' direct reports had an 18% reduction in work-related sick time off.

    Mental health training for managers should largely focus on:

    • An overview of the mental health disorders that employees are most likely to suffer from.
    • Recognizing the signs of poor mental health in employees.
    • The ability to actively listen and have conversations about mental health with their team.
    • A clear understanding of how mental health impacts performance.
    • Having clarity about the role they play in addressing the team's emotional well-being.
    • Managers must feel supported when it comes to their own mental health, in order to offer the required support to their team members.

    A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

    Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
    Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
    • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
    • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
    • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
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    It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

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    • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
    • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
    • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

    Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

    NOAA expects a busy season

    According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

    Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

    What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

    This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

    Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

    • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
    • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
    • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
    • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

    Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

    But wait.

    ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

    First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

    Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

    Image source: NOAA

    Batten down the hatches early

    If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

    Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

    Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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