Cloud Talk: How To Build Mental Wellness At Work
As global coronavirus numbers continue to rise well past the three million mark, mental health is fast becoming an issue on the top of everybody’s mind. People are experiencing unprecedented anxiety, not just from worrying about contracting the virus, but also from trying to adapt to the “new normal”—be it a remote working arrangement or a national lockdown.
And while the issue of mental health itself isn’t new, for many companies in Asia the idea of promoting and measuring workforce mental well-being may be. In our latest Cloud Talk webinar on April 27, we spoke to Megan Lam, the CEO of Neurum, to provide insights on why investing in employee mental wellness is both good for people and good for business.
With a background in neuroscience and psychiatric research, Megan co-founded Neurum in 2018 to provide screening and personalised mental health support for employees at scale. She has also consulted for the German government’s international development programme on digital health, and led a team at Yale School of Medicine that focused on the intersection of tech and mental health. Here are the key takeaways from this session.
Understanding Mental Health
At the beginning of the session, Lam ensured she clarified the actual definition of what it means to experience poor mental health. “It is a common misconception that mental health is about feeling sad or low, that it's all about feelings. What gets left out of the conversation is the issue of functionality—when you reach that threshold where you’re no longer able to function as well as you used to.”
According to the World Health Organization, this functionality that Lam spoke about is defined as a state of well-being where individuals realise their capabilities, are able to cope with normal stresses in life, are productive and are able to contribute to their community effectively.
Mental Health Issues Cost The Global Economy Trillions
Countries are seeing a greater number of mental health issues each year, and if the current upward trend continues at the same speed, this is expected to cost the global economy US$16 trillion in lost productivity by 2030, according to the Lancet Commission report by global experts in psychiatry, public health and neuroscience. The report also highlighted that this would translate into an estimated 12 billion working days lost annually.
The Concept Of Presenteeism
About 64 percent of people experiencing poor mental health still come to work despite knowing it will affect their productivity. “This is what we call presenteeism. People are doing this because there’s still a great level of stigma that deters people from talking about such issues openly, but also because employees don’t have a strong awareness of their own state of mental health, or the vocabulary to talk about it as much,” said Lam. “They are also concerned about whether they will be discriminated against or [worried] it’s going to hurt their career progression in some way after they share their issues with their colleagues or boss.”
See also: 6 Ways To Promote Mental Wellness In The Workplace
Investing In A Mental Wellness Programme Makes Good Business Sense
Reports show that for every dollar invested in establishing a mental wellness programme, companies will see four times the return on their investment. “And I don’t just mean providing yoga classes or sticking a crisis hotline in an employee handbook,” said Lam. Instead, wellness programs that provide employees support along the entire spectrum of mental health are more likely to achieve positive returns.
“It's unsurprising that providing employees with the support they need improves not only their engagement at work, but it's also very attractive for your business in terms of talent recruitment and retention," she said. “Research has also shown [it's most effective to] prioritise investing in preventative interventions and efforts. Basically, you don’t wait until things get really, really bad. If people are doing well for themselves, it's about helping to sustain that level of wellness for them.”
Build A Safe Space For Employees
Making employees feel psychologically safe at work is key to supporting their mental wellbeing. This means making sure your employees feel good about coming to work, and feel encouraged and supported. “This would include things like having a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination. It also encourages a diverse workforce and ensures everyone gets a fair go. So you can imagine when it comes to mental health and wellness—this means not penalising someone for not feeling well,” said Lam.
See also: Try This WFH Yoga Workout For Beginners
Include All Of Your Employees In The Conversation
“It’s actually more cost-effective for you as an employer if you help people stay at or return to work. If someone was off work due to a mental health issue, one rule of thumb is as if someone’s been off due to a physical health issue,” shared Lam. “Just ask them how you can be of support, how they’d like to be supported and make sure they’re included in this conversation.”
Data Is Key
Use data to measure your company’s current state of mental health. Quoting American professor Dr W Edwards Deming, Lam said: “In God we trust, but all others must bring data.”
“By measuring where your company is today, you have a reference point,” she explained. “This means whatever you implement or do going forward, you’re able to ensure you achieve the desired impact or know where to improve adoption rates. The data will also help to enhance future decision-making skills," she said, flagging the importance of companies devising a way to collect and analyse the data that is also safe, anonymised and confidential.
See also: These 5 Apps Can Make You Smarter
Lam suggested that an example of a small step that leaders can take is to start a meeting by asking how everyone is—and actually listening to what they have to share. “Err on the side of compassion, because everyone has a backstory and what you’re seeing in front of you may not be the full picture.”
Our webinar series Cloud Talk has both Chinese- and English-language editions To learn more about our upcoming webinars visit our Events page.