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Mental health News South Africa

Nurturing mental health in the workplace

Experts predicted the next global pandemic to follow Covid-19 would be depression. To date, it seems they may have been right. Phrases like ‘mental health’, ‘burnout’, and ‘The Great Resignation’ have been spoken with increased frequency and now with ever more urgency.
Source: Supplied. Alvin Govender, international performance coach.
Source: Supplied. Alvin Govender, international performance coach.

Chief executive officer of Awakening Leadership, Alvin Govender says it’s evident we are now facing a serious mental-health crisis.

“Currently, we have stats that show us that approximately 30% of employees are struggling with their mental health - this is one in every three or four people.”

This study was done in comparison to one conducted in 2013; at the time there was only one in every five people experiencing difficulties.

When he began to work in the coaching space, Govender initially did a lot of work with Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), where employee wellness companies are contracted to assist in enhancing employees' wellbeing.

Before this, he didn’t have much of an understanding of the mental-health crisis and although he was no stranger to motivational speaking, gaining perspective on mental challenges people were facing was alarming.

Preparing to ‘pep up’

Govender often tells his colleagues in the industry to prepare properly for employee wellness as it’s not as simple as telling people to ‘think positively’! While he approaches these situations loaded with research, he stresses the importance of a positive approach by marrying the realities of a situation with helpful tools.

For example, educate the audience on the percentage of individuals suffering from stress-related burnout, along with some viable resources that can assist them. He also says that perception makes a big difference and for this reason, he refers to it as resilience training, and not ‘mental-illness training’.

Ahead of engaging with employees, Govender will study recent staff surveys and work alongside industrial psychologists and other experts to obtain critical data. This data sets the tone for the resilience training. His experience has taught him that it’s best to engage with employees at various levels and he has tailored his training to suit each division.

From resilience for leaders to resilience in managers and then employees, there is a toolkit suited to adjust at every level, to make both management and their staff more resilient and happier people.

“There is more trust when interventions are facilitated by an outside expert, rather than someone internal. Some conversations are better when managed by someone neutral.”

Govender is supportive of the concept of ‘toxic positivity’, and says that his training aims to coach employees skills that can be applied throughout their entire life. He believes that at times you need to face a negative situation directly and assess what steps to take. It’s through this exercise that a person learns to trust a process and becomes more resilient. We must be prepared to face the truth and have tough conversations.

A common myth is that resilient people stand alone as beacons of strength, whereas Govender says studies indicate the most common trait shared by resilient people is a good support structure.

Common challenges

Over the past five years, Govender has worked closely with 21 companies and has gained key insights into the most common workplace mental-health issues:

  • Work overload: Although more common in certain industries than others, people are weighed down by unrealistic loads.
  • Restructuring: This is a process that used to occur on average once every four years. Recent studies show this has shifted to as often as every 14 months. Although this is a global statistic and may differ in your industry, the one thing we can all agree on is that we are experiencing far more change than ever before. Restructuring so often causes staff insecurity and anxiety.
  • Unachievable targets: Constantly being made to feel as if you’re not capable of completing a task is a hindrance to confidence.
  • People issues:This has become more commonplace post-Covid, and Govender feels it could be exacerbated by remote working leading to poor communication skills.
  • Toxic work environments: Such as bullying or harassment, is one of the most triggering factors for depression in the workplace.
  • Leadership issues: Leaders who don’t communicate effectively or lack leadership skills.
  • Bias: Be this in the form of unconscious bias or nepotism, these are key factors that have negative effects.

Creating supportive work environments

Govender says an under-estimated, yet critical aspect of mental illness is that if a person assigns all the power outside of themselves, it can wreak havoc should it fall away. This can apply if your entire identity is your job, and you are retrenched.

Or if you give your identity to your spouse, and they leave you. This is where you need to take a critical look at how much time you are investing in your potential. An individual with a strong internal locus of control is more resilient and will attract success independent of change and adversity. They will experience the pain but will navigate this more effectively.

Through his resilience training, he coaches employees on skills they can apply in their personal lives too. The core of emotional intelligence is self-awareness and self-management.

“Any area of your life that you are currently neglecting will lead to a crisis at some point.”

This is where we find ourselves in a conundrum post-pandemic. Many people have lost the key ability to relate to their co-workers or communicate professionally and courteously.

And while some have fully adopted the concept of remote working, Govender cautions employers to have empathy and understand that the ideal ‘work-from-home’ scenario can only apply to the lucky few with the resources to create a home office.

Workplace culture has been negatively impacted and this has had a damaging side-effect on brand image, with integrity also coming into question as employees manage their new online business or their latest ‘Sixty60’ order mid-Zoom.

To counteract these effects, companies are going on culture drives and are investing in working alongside coaches and re-energising their teams to get morale up.

Govender has had to create new material when called upon to help put into place strategies around digital rules that up the engagement factor. He is currently creating a ‘how-to’ guidebook that will outline the best practices for virtual working and seminars on how to correctly conduct ‘Teams’ meetings.

The fact remains that resilient people are happier people. And happier people are productive people. And being productive is ultimately better than simply being ‘busy’.

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