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discussing mental health in the workplace
Asma' Jailani3 min read

How Companies are Learning to Talk About Mental Health in the Workplace

Findings from the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 show that 2.3% of Malaysian adults are experiencing depression. It may seem like a small percentage, but when put to scale, it is equivalent to about half a million adults in Malaysia. This, coupled with the estimates for anxiety and extreme stress, accounts for 1 in 4 Malaysian adults being affected by a mental health condition.

According to the WHO, depression is expected to be the most significant contributor to the disease burden by 2030. 

Yet many people still find it challenging to open up about mental health problems in the workplace due to the stigma surrounding mental health. It is as though people would rather suffer in silence than risk the possibility of being fired or regarded as incompetent or unwell.


Corporate management teams must work toward shifting their employees’ outlook on mental health, if for no other reason than because the mental well-being of their employees impacts business. According to the WHO, two of the most common mental health conditions, depression, and anxiety, cost the global economy as much as US$ 1 trillion annually in lost productivity.

Fortunately, some companies have already taken steps in the right direction.


Some companies stepped up

As part of their standard Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), some employees are provided with e-learning materials and resources to help them address personal problems and are also taught practical tools to help them reach out to a co-worker they suspect might not be feeling okay.

Following the outbreak of Covid-19, Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG) launched its EAP to help its employees cope with the challenges of being in lockdown and working from home. Employees were provided tips to adapt and access financial counselling and financial literacy courses to empower lifestyle transitions. The EAP was later enhanced with MHeart, a psychological well-being digital platform by Naluri, to promote holistic health care.


How mental health affects business

A survey by AIA Vitality reports that organisations lose 73.3 days per employee per year due to absence and presenteeism, costing each employer, on average, RM1.46 million per month. In 2018, mental health conditions in the workplace were estimated to have cost the Malaysian economy RM14.46 billion.

Leaving employees’ mental health unchecked can have disastrous effects on the employees and the company’s well-being. When employees are burdened by stress without a proper way to deal with it, the impact will transfer to the quality of their work, resulting in wasted time and resources required to make up for the slack.

Investing in employee well-being is an investment that pays off. A recent WHO-led study estimated that for every US$ 1 put into scaled-up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity. Happy and cared-for employees will result in a more productive and loyal workforce.


How to support your employees

Start by destigmatising conversations around mental health in the workplace. Here are a few ways to get started:


Normalise mental health days off

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Much like how one takes a sick day off due to a cold or flu, encourage employees to take days off when they are mentally overwhelmed or overly stressed.


Introduce Employee Assistance Programmes

If your company does not already have EAPs, consider how a comprehensive programme can help employees address areas of concern, such as financial literacy, mental health, or stress management.

Consider providing employees with resources they can refer to, such as educational lessons about diet, exercise, stress management, resilience, and customised professional health coaching by experts.

Naluri’s corporate wellness programmes are proven to improve the health and well-being of your team, decrease your company’s health-related costs and expenditures, and improve productivity – ultimately impacting your bottom line positively in as little as six months.


Show support from the top down

Encourage managers to open up about their mental health and initiate honest and open conversations with their teammates. Observing superiors talk about mental health in the workplace candidly gives license to employees to talk about their mental health too.


Turn the workplace into a safe space

Language is important. Teach employees to avoid using derogatory terms referencing mental health or misusing mental health terms such as OCD and bipolar. Not only do these words send the wrong message, but they also alienate people affected by mental health conditions. Tactfully correcting someone in public or private will give license for others to do the same.

Also, consider training your employees in mental health first aid. This will allow them to help and support their coworkers who are struggling mentally and need a reassuring support system.

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