The COVID-19 pandemic can be widely considered as a global traumatic event that has immensely impacted every facet of our lives – especially our working lives.1 From the anxiety over the risk of contagion to the stress over economic uncertainty, we have witnessed a worrying yet unsurprising decline in mental health across the globe.
It is an understatement that poor employee wellbeing has contributed to low productivity and performance in recent times. Research has demonstrated that 75% of individuals across Singapore, UK, and US have reported lower productivity and performance due to poorer mental health as a result of the pandemic.2 Evidently, the impact of poor mental health on employee well-being and productivity ultimately increases costs, warranting urgent attention from employers in this time of crisis. The World Bank reported that depression and anxiety cost $1 trillion in the global economy annually due to productivity losses.3 However, an obstacle standing in the way of employers is the pervasive mental health stigma in the workplace.
Combating Mental Health stigma
The steady rise in mental health awareness across the world has seen a heartening increase in employees willing to seek mental health services in the past 5 years.4 However, research in 2019 revealed that 80% of both employers and employees still view mental health issues as a burden. Such stigma is exacerbated in Asian cultures, as those struggling with their mental health are sometimes labelled as weak and ill-disciplined.5 Consequently, employees often fear that seeking help for these issues may endanger their job security.6,7
Research has further demonstrated a severe lack of basic training in identifying signs of poor mental health in the workplace.8 Due to such inadequate training, employees suffering from mental health issues often avoid approaching co-workers and senior management for support, inadvertently reducing their productivity.9,10
Employee wellbeing & productivity
Equipping employers and employees with mental health aid skills is invaluable in improving well-being, productivity, and returns. Mental health aid is a form of early intervention. It involves teaching individuals how to recognise the warning signs of mental health issues in others, provide non-judgmental emotional support, and encourage them seek professional help.11
Learning mental health aid skills has been shown to improve mental health literacy, positive attitudes towards mental health, and confidence in providing aid to those suffering from mental health issues.12 Individuals with these skills have also been able to effectively apply these skills to themselves to lower psychological distress and improve well-being.13 Furthermore, equipping employees with these skills ultimately benefits companies. According to the World Health Organisation, every $1 invested in treatment and support for individuals with mental health concerns produces a $4 return in improved productivity and health.14 Proactively improving mental health aid skills among employees can therefore generate high return of investment for organisations.
The COVID-19 crisis has undoubtedly been an ongoing trauma that we collectively share. However, the widespread mental health stigma in the workplace has deterred many employees from seeking emotional support and professional help. Equipping employers and employees with mental health aid skills through wellbeing programmes and webinars not only tackles such stigma, but it ultimately produces better employee well-being, productivity, and organisation returns. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that it is never too late to have open conversations about mental health.
By Sadrish Pradhan
5. National Council of Social Service. (2018). Understanding the Quality of Life of Adults with Mental Health Issues.