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Age of COVID 19: Mental health and working from home, an employee's perspective

The impact of COVID‑19 will be felt for years to come. It has changed our lives forever. This article is an employees’ perspective of coping during this crisis – the effects of financial insecurity, unemployment, fear on our state of mental health.

Since the beginning of lockdown in South Africa, March 2020, I have seen the decline of my peers’ mental and emotional health. The ability to cope on a day to day basis has become a struggle none of us were groomed or prepared for growing up, these lessons couldn’t be taught as the ability to teach coping mechanisms for a scenario like this didn’t form part of our parent’s playbook.

We have been handling this on a day to day basis, anxiety, depression and burnout now forms part of our daily lives as we try to navigate these unfamiliar waters.

As a lot of research has been done over the last 2 years taking all contributing factors into consideration there is an emerging light at the end of tunnel.

Employers to start embracing mental health in the workplace

Prevention is key, for far too long mental health has been a taboo subject, employees are scared to discuss their struggles with their managers for fear of being targeted or marked unfit to cope under pressure. It is time for employers to embrace the fact that we are all human with unseen struggles and to open up a platform for employees to discuss the difficulties they face without critique or judgement.

This said I believe by opening up about their own struggles and providing employees with solutions and mental health policies top management can pave the way.

There are many solutions one can turn to, one I found to be quite interesting is a digital offering by Headspace for Work, a mindfulness-based employee mental-health solution.

Employer expectations regarding working hours

In the working from home environment we are expected to clock a full 8 hour day, it is after all called a 9 to 5.

This however far exceeds the same expectations when working in an office environment where the work and our physical presence was enough to convince our employers we are worthy of our paychecks at the end of each month.

Getting up to make a cup of coffee, having a chat with a colleague and body breaks were all included in our 8 hour work day. By having access to the above it allowed us to get up from our desk, move around and unload some of the struggles we may have faced onto our peers. It was easier to unwind as we had the “extra” support available.

In a home environment we need to be available and behind our desks, from 9 to 5, every day, 5 days a week. The extra pressure to prove that we are worthy candidates and can be trusted to work from home is taking a major toll on our mental fatigue and wellbeing.

The effect of COVID-19 and the enforced disruption to ‘normal’ business practice, employee mental health should be of major concern to employers, especially those employees with a substance use disorder. Are employees getting the necessary support to cope?

In a recent publication (see link below) by McKinsey based on a US National survey of employers, “Nearly 80% of employers surveyed report at least some concern about employee mental health overall, and about two-thirds report concern about substance use disorder.

About half of employer respondents indicate that mental health is a top organisational/CEO priority for them. Employers can prioritise mental health by appointing leaders responsible for mental health at an organisational level, as well as expanding benefits, policies, and programs.”

Clearly there is a recognition of the issue and the need to do more to support employees to become more productive and increase job satisfaction.

The crux of the survey affirmed this “that employees with anxiety or depression report missing, on average, roughly 6 times more work days per year than individuals without a mental health condition. It is incumbent on all employers to address which factors contribute to stress and burnout in the workplace.

It goes without saying but employees that have better workplace mental health is associated with increased productivity and loyalty. Do your bit help your employees lead better and more productive lives.


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