The Importance of Mental Health and Wellbeing in our Future workplaces, ‘The lights are on but is anyone home?’
Uncertainties of the future, especially in the workplace, are not just an issue of 2020. Workplace anxiety has been in the spotlight for many years preceding the current pandemic climate. Since beyond the ages of the printing press “new technologies have been making old roles obsolete”, yet once the addition of a global pandemic is considered, the question of the level of anxiety that exists around the future of work takes centre stage. Mental health and work-related stress has been well documented and prevalent pre-covid 19, however, has this global situation created an even more significant collective anxiety? Taking into account that working remotely began way before COVID-19, statistics show that over the past 12 years, due to technological advances, remote work has increased by 159% and this has surprisingly (or not surprisingly for some) created increased job satisfaction for many employees. Furthermore, it’s said that “work is good for mental health but a negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems.” (World Health Organisation, 2020)
So where does the truth lie regarding job satisfaction, anxiety and mental health status with regards to working more autonomously from home and consideration of the future? If the Black Dog Institute makes the claim that ‘mental illness is the leading cause of absenteeism in the workplace’, then what on earth happens to mental health when the workplace is ‘home’? If home has suddenly become an office, gym and school classroom and the boundaries between all are constantly blurring, uncertainty about the future becomes inevitable. Are the lines between work and home life becoming even more blurred and has this blurred the anxiety crossover?
Perhaps the current exponential growth trend of the remote workplace was forced upon many employees way too quickly for them to adapt successfully. Hence, the common anecdotal report of a collectively ‘stressed’ society due to the idea of socially isolated productivity becomes a major contributor to dysfunctional wellbeing. However, for some, it may have actually alleviated some of the mental health concerns and constraints encountered within office environments. When the pressures around commuting or travel, grooming, dressing up, food preparation and social expectations are taken out of the equation for a proportion of people, productivity may even have a chance to be enhanced.
We know workplace anxiety and mental health is a real ‘thing’ when the government takes steps to recognise and address it! The Australian economy reportedly loses approximately $12 billion per year in reduced productivity and sickness absence related to mental health issues (Black Dog Institute, 2020). Due to the current global pandemic, since March 2020, the Australian Government has worked towards providing unprecedented support to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians is protected during and after the pandemic. $165.9 million has been invested in mental health as part of the COVID-19 response (Australian Government: Department of Health, 2020). In addition, the allowance for mental health plans has doubled from 10 to 20 sessions! Does the government envisage a doubling of mental health related repercussions? This is a huge investment from our health budget and may greatly affect the way the future of mental health is addressed within the workplace.
Although it is admirable that the Government is recognising the need to develop initiatives, employers would benefit from more understanding and education on how to best support workplace mental health for their employees. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), two in five employers (43 percent) say their employees fear that admitting a problem may negatively impact their job security. Similarly, 38 percent report employees fear about confidentiality and 36 percent say employees do not acknowledge or are not ready to address their problems. So how can workplaces provide better support & acknowledge this? Although not all mental health related issues and anxiety are work related, if workplaces can address and manage the work-related end of this load, will the summation effect be reduced?
WHO describes a healthy workplace 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.”In their academic report from 2014 they suggest that interventions should take a 3-pronged approach:
- Protect mental health by reducing work–related risk factors
- Promote mental health by developing the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees
- Address mental health problems regardless of cause.
Applying these approaches to our current setting of 2020, it is evident that flexibility in workplace scheduling is the KEY! If workplaces want what’s best for their employees, then it would be in their best interests to provide them with options. Perhaps assessments to filter those who work better under different conditions in different environments could be utilised to determine tailored workplace solutions that can be created to suit the mental health needs of each individual.Conclusively, it is no surprise that mental health and wellbeing are vital to ensuring the future of our workplaces are supportive of all employees. If there’s one thing we can take away from 2020 and living through a global pandemic, it is that everyone is of varying preferences when it comes to working from home. For some it is a place of growth and productivity, for others this productivity is prohibited and mental health and wellbeing is greatly affected. Whether mental health concerns or work-related or not, employees need to feel supported in the workplace in the future of work and hopefully in the near future, we can come together to achieve this!
Australian Government: Department of Health, 2020, Prioritising Mental Health and telehealth – COVID-19 pandemic response, viewed November 12th 2020 <https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/10/budget-2020-21-prioritising-mental-health-and-telehealth-covid-19-pandemic-response-budget-2020-21-prioritising-mental-health-and-telehealth-covid-19-pandemic-response.pdf>
Black Dog Institute, 2020, Working from home: A checklist to support your mental health, viewed November 12th 2020 <https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/news/working-from-home-a-checklist-to-support-your-mental-health-during-coronavirus/>
Black Dog Institute, 2020, Workplace mental health, viewed November 12th 2020 < https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/research-areas/workplace/>
Employment Hero, 2020, Remote Working Statistics To Look Out for coming into 2021, viewed November 12th 2020 <https://employmenthero.com/blog/remote-working/statistics/?utm_term=%2Bwork%20%2Bfrom%20%2Bhome%20%2Bstatistics&utm_campaign=EH+-+TFN+Declaration-+EXACT&utm_source=adwords&utm_medium=ppc&hsa_acc=9068026310&hsa_net=adwords&hsa_grp=112199624109&hsa_ver=3&hsa_kw=%2Bwork%20%2Bfrom%20%2Bhome%20%2Bstatistics&hsa_tgt=kwd-885753897064&hsa_mt=b&hsa_ad=479286721430&hsa_src=g&hsa_cam=11563983029&gclid=Cj0KCQiAwMP9BRCzARIsAPWTJ_F9PPggSyi9VmBXeayhH8sM6sKEA2J7_VJg0XSYt_bz8yBtZhNTlwwaArkjEALw_wcB>
Future of Business and Tech, 2020, The Evolution of Mental Health in the Workplace, viewed November 12th 2020 <https://www.futureofbusinessandtech.com/employee-well-being/the-evolution-of-mental-health-in-the-workplace/#>
Robert Half, 2020, The Future of Work: Adapting to technological change, viewed November 12th 2020 <https://www.roberthalf.com/research-and-insights/workplace-research/the-future-of-work>
World Health Organisation (WHO), 2020, Mental health in the workplace, viewed November 12th 2020 <https://www.who.int/teams/mental-health-and-substance-use/mental-health-in-the-workplace>