By Heidi Duvenage, head of Sage Talent Solutions
There’s a feed on Bored Panda showcasing photos that prove that depression “has no face”. Hundreds of seemingly “ordinary” people have submitted photos of themselves or loved ones who, from the outside, seem happy. But behind closed doors, many of them battle with a mental illness that, on some days, can be debilitating.
Many organisations in South Africa are not yet accommodating to those with mental illnesses. The reason for this is two-fold. First, mental illness is still largely misunderstood and organisations don’t know how to deal with it. It’s a sensitive topic that is not often discussed between managers and reports – and certainly not during interviews.
Second, people who are living with a mental illness are reluctant to disclose this for fear of discrimination, being overlooked for a promotion, or awkward relationships with colleagues.
The reality is that we live in a high-stress country, in a high-stress world. Concerns about the future collide with the pressure of a fast-paced and evolving business environment, where we’re expected to do more with fewer resources.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression and anxiety account for the most frequent occurrences in occupational disability, while depression is expected to account for 15% of the global disease burden by 2020.
In South Africa, one in five people will experience mental illness and only 2% of those people will be able to function productively at work.
When properly managed, and when supported by a nurturing and accommodating work environment, those with mental illnesses can function just as well as those without, as their illness does not define their competence.
All things considered – with the biggest consideration being that our teams are our biggest asset and should be treated as such – companies need to start thinking about how they can create a healthier workplace for all team members.
Employee wellness programmes typically focus on physical wellness and nutrition, with little attention given to mental wellness. But employers need to adopt an integrated approach to employee wellness that also focuses on creating a happy, positive, productive environment. This is important for motivation, innovation and employee satisfaction – which is to say, it will make your business more attractive to prospective employees.
Creating a happy environment
Here are a few tips on how your company can be more sensitive towards those with mental illnesses and how you can create a supportive environment that boosts your team's well-being and minimises the impact on productivity.
· Have open conversations that create awareness among your team. By law, team members are not required to disclose mental illnesses but it is in their and the company's best interest to do so.
· Mental illness can be triggered by stressful situations. Consider offering flexi-time and other accommodating working environments to those who feel like they'll be more productive at home than around other people.
· Create awareness and educate your entire team on mental illness andencourage sensitivity and understanding among co-workers, through integrated employee wellness programmes and talks facilitated by experts.
· Create a dedicated "quiet zone" in the office, where teams can retreat to meditate or catch their breath in times of high stress. The benefits of meditation have been well documented and include increased immunity, creativity and productivity, and improved employee relations. Check out the Sage guided meditations as a starting point.
When not managed correctly, chronic stress can lead to more serious health issues, including high blood pressure and stomach problems. In today's fast-paced business environment, employee wellness should be a priority – from the CEO level right through to the intern.
By investing in the health and well-being of your team, you will not only reduce absenteeism but will create a working environment that will attract and retain top talent.