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From ‘I’ to ‘we’: Change ‘illness’ to ‘wellness’ in the workplace together



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If you are a manager or leader in-charge of a team, stop doing nothing and start actively treating mental health as part of employee welfare, affirms Maria Plengsangtip.

Over the years, scientists and psychologists have come up with a lot of formulas, anti-depressants and theories about mental illness. While anti-depressants suppress a lot of our symptoms, let me tell you a secret – one of the most important panacea of mental health is social support.

Sometimes, we like to think that we are single units of human beings, apart and distant from everyone. As far as our denial can bring us, we are not. We are social beings where others depend on us and we depend on others.

No matter how hard we try combating the negative feelings and emotions in our minds, more often than not, it only takes a simple show of concern like “Are you okay?” from someone else to keep us going for the day.

The three levels of social support

In the workplace, social networks are formed in complex webs of connections between units of hierarchies and different job scopes. So does social support – it comes from different levels – organisational, managerial and individual. All are vital in their own ways.

At the organisational level, employee assistance programs (EAP) and policies are fundamental ways to provide support for the employees. Organisations should review their existing framework of policies and initiatives to ensure that their mental health programmes are easily accessible and known to their employees.

One of the simplest, but mostly neglected, ways is to cover for staff’s psychiatric treatment. Once known, it will also encourage staff to seek help when faced with problems. Conducting mental health awareness weeks and campaigns lets employees know more about first signs and symptoms of certain mental illness and dismisses certain biases and stigmas surrounding mental health.

Workers spend most of their waking hours at work. As much as managers and individuals can do, it takes an open-minded organisation for the provision of holistic staff welfare – both mentally and physically.

Equipped with adequate skills to provide basic counselling and support for their employees will allow managers to notice if their employees are experiencing any problems.

At the managerial level, managers can attend workshops to improve their supportive leadership skills. Equipped with adequate skills to provide basic counselling and support for their employees will allow them to notice if their employees are experiencing any problems. Managers should also have sufficient resources like counselling hotlines or help so that they can refer their staff for professional help if they require any.

To make the workplace vibrant and lively, and filled with positive relationships and energy, managers can conduct hands-on activities for their staff to build teamwork and communication. If funds permit, they can also think about hiring external speakers or services to provide them with professional talks and workshops so that individuals have the opportunities to develop coping and peer support skills.

More often than not, managers do not realise their crucial role in promoting mental wellness, which results in them doing nothing about it. Doing nothing allows poor mental health to manifest in unhealthy ways. If you are a manager of a body of staff, stop doing nothing and start actively treating mental health as part of staff welfare.

At the individual level, we need to get rid ourselves and others of all the stigmas and biases surrounding mental illness. We need to understand that even though mental illness does not affect us like physical illnesses do, it does not mean that it is not important.

We need to stop thinking that mental health is insignificant. The intangible nature of mental health is frequently neglected. Additionally, we often forget that we are capable to saving someone’s life just by simply asking them about their day. It is important to consistently check-in on our employees and build positive relationships and be each other’s pillar of support.

Remember, we were never meant to be single unit of organisms; we are a collective of social beings dependent on one another.


The author, Maria Plengsangtip, is the Partner and Consultant Psychologist of iGROW, an award winning psychological consultancy specialising in leadership, culture and engagement. Together with Benedict Lim, CEO and Chief Psychologist of iGROW, she will be collaborating with Human Resources Online to deliver an online course on Managing Mental Health & Wellbeing in the Workplace.

To register or find out more, write to Heather Ang at heathera@humanresourcesonline.net.



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