Tackling mental health in the workplace

Meeting learns that employers and employees have an equal responsibility of creating and promoting health and wellness


Many times when faced with an ailment, we book an appointment with the doctor almost immediately. But with mental health is different because most people neither acknowledge it nor seek treatment for it. Hence Business Botswana, in collaboration with the United Nations (UN), hosted a meeting at Avani Hotel in Gaborone to openly talk about this hidden, yet lethal epidemic last week.

The meeting was in line with commemoration of the United Nations World Mental Health Day whose theme for this year is “Mental Health in the Workplace.” It enabled attendants to explore mental health for a healthy workforce and a healthy economy. This came at a time when discourse on mental health is said to be gaining prominence on both national and international platforms because of its impact on businesses and employee productivity.

The President of Business Botswana, Gobusamang Keebine, said it was saddening that each year thousands of people across the globe lose their jobs because of poor mental health. Keebine noted that each year companies lose the most productive and brilliant staff members most of whom never realise their potential due to issues with their mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, sometimes businesses and companies leave it until it is too late and often employers only act when people are already pushed to the brink.

“There are many risk factors for mental health that may be present in the working environment,” said Keebine. “Most risks relate to interactions between the type of work, the organisational and managerial environment, the skills and competencies of employees, and the support available for employees to carry out their work.”

He observed that some jobs may carry a higher personal risk than others, which can have an impact on mental health and be a cause of symptoms of mental disorders or lead to harmful use of alcohol or psychoactive drugs. “Risk may be increased in situations where there is a lack of team cohesion or social support,” he said. “These health consequences can have costs for employers in terms of reduced productivity and increased staff turnover. They can also have a negative impact on family and social interactions.”

To curb these challenges, everyone should strive to create a healthy environment where people can realise their full potential in the workplace. A healthy workplace can be described as one where workers and managers actively contribute to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety and well being of all employees. Interventions and good practices that protect and promote mental health in the workplace include implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices, informing staff that support is available and involving employees in decision-making, organisational practices that support a healthy work-life balance and recognising and rewarding the contribution of employees.

“Many of the initiatives may help individuals with mental disorders,” Keebine noted. “In particular, flexible hours, job-redesign, addressing negative workplace dynamics, and supportive and confidential communication with management can help people with mental disorders continue or return to work. Access to evidence-based treatments has been shown to be beneficial for depression and other mental disorders.”

For his part, the CEO of Business Botswana Norman Moleele said it is important for employees to understand mental health so that they are well-equipped with the right knowledge and emotional capacity to deal with staff situations. The workplace can trigger mental ill health such as stress, anxiety and sabotage, amongst others. “In order to achieve meaningful health outcomes, mental health needs to be a part of the conversation so that we can develop robust programmes for our employees. Captains of industry, you have programmes that are geared towards promoting of health and wellness. Therefore, we need to adopt the same strategy to increase productivity in our different work fields.”