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How leaders can help address mental health challenges at work

Discovery chief people officer and SA Depression and Anxiety Group CEO discuss mental wellbeing in the workplace

Mentors should focus on mental wellbeing, particularly during the pandemic, says Cassey Chambers, SA Depression and Anxiety Group CEO.
Mentors should focus on mental wellbeing, particularly during the pandemic, says Cassey Chambers, SA Depression and Anxiety Group CEO.
Image: 123RF/Racorn

On day 2 of Discovery’s Mentorship with Purpose masterclasses, panel member Tswelo Kodisang, chief people officer at Discovery, and Cassey Chambers, SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) CEO, discuss mental wellbeing in the workplace.

“Many of us are still navigating the pandemic. Some days we are good and prepared. Other days we are burnt out and have Covid fatigue about our online meetings,” says Chambers.

Chambers spoke at Discovery’s five-day masterclass programme, which brings together global thought leaders to provide insight on a range of topics for the recipients of, and partners in, its corporate sustainability initiatives.

“Mentors should focus on mental wellbeing, particularly during the pandemic. We have to frame where we are right now when we think about mental health in the workplace. Our statistics show one in four employees has depression and 35% of the workforce is experiencing a stress-related physical ill health symptom. Employees with a mental illness will lose up to 18 days a year in absenteeism and even more in presenteeism (which is being at work but not operating optimally), resulting in lost productivity,” says Chambers.

Kodisang says: “If we don’t have healthy people, we don’t have healthy, successful organisations. If I, as a leader, create the right environment to optimise health, the performance will follow.”

Creating psychological safety in the workplace

Kodisang says leaders are tasked with creating psychological safety, which means people are comfortable voicing their opinions and feelings: “Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School professor, says psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.

“I do this simply by doing check-ins: ‘How are you?’ The power of a simple question opens up such a rich dialogue. I’ve had people say ‘I’m alone and I’m struggling being alone’, which prompted us to provide real support. I answer too; that physically I am fine, but emotionally not that great. It opens up conversation and that’s how leaders set the tone,” he says.

Watch the video below:

“Before you start thinking at a macro level about how to make an impact on others, start experimenting in your own environment. As leaders, we need to be the advocates of nurturing good mental wellbeing and leading by being role models. The more people see you take care of your mental wellbeing, the more they will seek you out, and then it starts to spread to others about you.”

Chambers says: “The stigma of speaking about mental health in the workplace prevents people from speaking up and sharing their issues. There is fear of being treated differently, discrimination, being humiliated, and so on. It’s about finding safe spaces to talk about mental health and mental wellness. If someone is not comfortable opening up to you as a leader, encourage them to speak to someone (counsellor, GP or therapist) or someone they trust.

“There are creative ways to start those conversations and break down those barriers: creating connect sessions, sharing information and self-help tips, and sharing resources. Sadag’s website offers various resources with tips and tools on how to talk about mental health in the workplace.”

Kodisang says the conversations are about liberating potential. “It’s not easy. It’s important to be open and lead through vulnerability. We will get to where we need to be in terms of mental wellbeing when we are invested in each other’s success.”

The Discovery Mentorship with Purpose Masterclass series runs until July 2 2021.

This article was paid for by Discovery SA.

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