KAMPALA – Excitement found me on the bus heading out of town for a give-away and boom, an uncle who first read the article checks in with a call of `omusigatzi waba celeb’ literally meaning young man you have become a celebrity because he had come across my first ever written and online published article on mental health at the workplace. He agreed that most of what was spelt therein was relatable.
Before the previous article, I met with a colleague, Dr Agaba, a resident of psychiatry at |Makerere University, to share a cup of tea and deliberate the scope of mental health at work for employees like us. The revelations of that discussion were overwhelming. We found out that our employers, despite being senior colleagues in the medical profession, had inadequate tools to address common mental health challenges at work. Moreover, some of these habitually dismiss mental health issues with the phrase, ‘doctors must be doctors’. Unfortunately, such attitudes continue to breed mental and physical issues for employees.
For years now, businesses have developed a culture to level up physical wellness such as organizing physical exercise classes; inviting dieticians to address matters of healthy feeding and organizing marathons like cancer and sickle cell runs. While these efforts are praiseworthy, we are learning that they are inadequate on their own.
Employees are facing more mental and physical health challenges especially now as we collectively struggle with new COVID-19 variants like Delta and Omicron. As many as 550 workdays are lost to presentism and stress every year. Data from Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, a federation of health insurance companies in the United States, shows that many millennials they are suffering from more behavioral health challenges than their parents or grandparents did at the same age. In fact, nearly a third of them (millennials) have a behavioral health condition, and rates are rising by double-digits. As life continues to change, workplaces should incorporate a more robust holistic approach (one that fosters and supports employees’ full health) for a balance between work and life rather than the traditional wellness programs.
Creating a new health culture at work could include providing non-medical benefits and perks that promote your employees’ full health – from physical and behavioural to financial and beyond. This includes non-medical offerings such as tuition reimbursement, financial coaching and flexible work hours to support a healthier workforce. Importantly, make sure your employees are aware of all the benefits available and how to use them. Consider your company’s physical work environment as well as policies and processes and the impact they may have on employees’ health and well-being.
Furthermore, aim to build a balanced and healthy workplace culture that is inclusive – reducing stigma and unnecessary stress inducers wherever possible. Build an environment around what your employees say would be most impactful to their health and well-being. Don’t just ask for their input once – go further to create regular formal and informal opportunities for input, and then take action on those insights. Test and learn to find what is truly impactful.
Remember, as an employer, you are pertinent in ensuring that work cultures change for the better and that employees are fully stable and healthy to achieve maximum production.
The writer is a medical doctor, advocate for mental health working with Mulago National Specialized hospital and Makerere University Lung Institute.