Employee mental wellness: an unintended effect of the COVID pandemic (March 2021)
Historically the extended family is consulted to solve problems and unfortunately, that network is not as reliable as a result of COVID. As a result, organisations should provide support for employees as a routine aspect of their operations – if staff are cared for, the wider community is strengthened.
COVID and its resultant ebbing lockdown periods have been a stressful time for people all over the world including in Africa. Emotional wellness of people should be at the forefront of most companies’ plans. While businesses are grappling with how to sustain themselves, they should simultaneously be taking care of their employees. There are simple initiatives that businesses of all sizes can take to start addressing mental wellness, which Prudential Africa has outlined below.
A key learning lesson from operating in the pandemic for Prudential Africa has been that physical and mental wellbeing are equally important.
“Collective trauma as a result of COVID happened at a societal level while making individuals more inward-looking. Our employees in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda are experiencing heightened trepidation due to everyday uncertainties, less interaction with colleagues and concerns for family safety. Inevitably, employee pressure equals business pressure,” says Arjun Mallik, MD for Prudential East Africa.
Mr. Mallik also added “We find that it requires more mindful work within our workplace to balance business objectives and life’s normal needs and responsibilities.”
With 60% of its population under the age of 25, Africa is the youngest continent. The continent continues to offer businesses the best prospects for future growth. Human capital is a vital prerequisite for capitalising on opportunities ahead. To fully unlock the potential of the vast human resources available it is paramount that each individual is provided an atmosphere to develop, maintain and grow their mental wellness, which has taken a knock during the pandemic.
“Our experience shows that for employees to reach their potential, to contribute meaningfully and to create value in a workplace they must be in the right state of mind. Shareholders and managers demand a lot from staff and excess stress of this kind leads to mental and physical break downs and sometimes burnout. If someone is anxious, stressed or depressed, they become less attentive and less productive and it sets back their growth potential. Awareness and acceptance of this stress is part of the key to mental fitness of employees and should never be overlooked,” continues Mr. Mallik.
“Although COVID has negatively impacted our lives, it has given people the confidence to admit that they need help and support and to recognise that mental wellness is a priority. Moreover, at Prudential Africa we have realised that if we give our employees the opportunity to be heard and to heal emotionally, we create an atmosphere for them to bounce back quicker.” says Mr. Mallik.
Prudential Africa, believes that the first step is to bring the conversation about mental wellness into the open – to acknowledge it, talk about it and, finally, in unison with staff, find solutions to improve.
Investment in staff emotional wellness through a dedicated programme cannot be overlooked
- Alleviate stress and build tools and resources to help staff and managers recognise and act on emotional wellness issues.
- Exhibit management commitment by providing holistic and sustainable solutions in order to foster a sense of community
- Create a culture of openness for all staff to perform at their best.
- Encourage all employees to be accommodating, to listen and to assist with the emotional issues their colleagues are facing.
- Ensure that the programme transcends beyond the COVID pandemic.
Some elements/tools include:
- Third party experts presenting on topics such as gratitude and how to balance work and play.
- Provide staff with tools such as meditation techniques to handle stress.
- Train managers to identify warning signs within their team or among colleagues – provide them with a toolkit to help them conduct a conversation around emotional wellness.
- Introduce flexi hours which allow staff to do their work and remain in a safe environment – to be with their families and deliver at work.
- Install a 24/7 confidential counselling line run by a professional third party for staff and their dependants.
- Host more teambuilding activities that increase bonding among staff in and out of office to increase collaboration and to keep motivation high.
“The ultimate message to staff should be – you are not alone – everyone has mental challenges in different ways and we are all in this together. You should be able to show up to work in the best possible form of yourself.,” concludes Malik.