Managers should have regular weekly check-ins with their team members of a non-transactional nature, affirms Clinical Mental Health Counsellor, Maria Micha.
Today, 10 October 2022, marks 30 years of advocating for and recognising mental health as a global priority, with the first World Mental Health Day marked on 10 October 1992, at the initiative of Richard Hunter, Deputy Secretary General of the World Federation for Mental Health.
Keeping in mind the progress we've made in the last 30 years, and on the corporate side the chasm we've crossed during the pandemic, the momentum must not stop. We must continue to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilise efforts in support of mental wellbeing - at work and in life.
On the occasion, HRO's Jenette Del Mundo, reaches out to Maria Micha, Clinical Mental Health Counsellor/Psychotherapist/ Hypnotherapist, Maria Micha Counseling Center, for a deeper understanding of work culture, and how it has evolved since the pandemic.
Micha has worked as a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist for over two decades and helped individuals living with mental/emotional challenges overcome their limitations. She is committed to helping individuals, families, couples, and organisations transform thought/emotional patterns, and dysfunctional communication.
She will be speaking at the upcoming National Counselling & Psychotherapy Conference 2022 (NCPC 2022) on 29-30 November 2022 on the topic 'Therapist burnout: The value of incorporating balance and self-care into the workday'.
Interview excerpts below:
Q Why it is important for companies to prioritise mental health and wellbeing in today’s workplace environment, or risk losing out on the best talent?
The culture at corporate environments is perpetually changing. Yet, during the last two-and-a-half years due to the pandemic, we have witnessed dramatic shifts in the requirements employees have in order to feel appreciated, recognised and valued by their employer. The COVID-19 pandemic shed light to the mental and emotional struggles of employees. The emotional challenges of workforce members were pre-existing but amplified by the social isolation and the fear the pandemic created. World governments and organisations realised the need for increased mental health support and education.
As a result, the pandemic brought the mental health crisis to the surface and normalised the experience of mental health issues. For the first time, individuals and employees could openly talk about their emotional troubles as well as their deep mental crisis without the fear of being ostracised, fired or labelled "crazy". Managers and CEOs were pushed to organise and offer mental health counseling private sessions along with mental health webinars for their team members.
A new healthy culture was forged during the pandemic. Employees feel deserving of being treated in a humane manner where their feelings, mental ailments and the reality of work pressure is seen and addressed. Hence, the pandemic has radically changed the fabric of the work environment.
Corporations need to show sensitivity and offer practical support to their employees by providing clinical mental health services both on an individual level and group level. If not, they run the risk of losing their best talent to companies like Google who offer unlimited mental health care and webinars to their team members. Although, employers might feel this is an expensive addition to the health care they used to provide, they will quickly discover that their employees are more productive and willing to go the extra mile when they feel cared for.
Q How can companies take a holistic approach to promoting mental health in the workplace? What are we currently getting wrong that we need to improve upon?
Employers are unfortunately driven by the desire to maximise profit. In their pursuit of the highest possible profit, they tend to overlook their team members’ mental needs.
They are inclined to believe that since the pandemic is over, employees should take responsibility of their own mental health. However, the cat is out of the bag and the work culture will not revert to pre-pandemic corporate mental health standards. Employees have experienced what corporations are capable of offering and they expect a similar or better level of care. In the event, they don’t find the level of care they desire in their company, they will leave and join a company that offers better mental health care. A high attrition rate is one of the most challenging threats of any corporation.
The fear of additional cost, should be eliminated as research shows that happy employees are more productive and faithful to their company. If corporations offer a substantial health insurance that offers unlimited private counseling sessions as well as organise monthly mental health seminars, webinars or spiritual/meditation retreats, the financial benefits will outweigh the financial cost.
Additionally, managers should be trained by clinical mental health counsellors to identify signs of depression, anxiety, obsessiveness, or burnout. They should have regular weekly check-ins with their team members of a non-transactional nature. It would be beneficial for managers to receive help by mental health experts in creating an emotionally safe work environment where employees can fearlessly talk about mental health challenges and seek help. The taboo of mental health crisis needs to be eliminated from the workplace.
Q Could you share examples of high-impact mental health interventions you've experienced, and how they have made significant changes?
The high-impact mental health interventions I have experienced through my clients and corporations I work with, is primarily the provision of unlimited private counseling sessions with a counsellor of the employee’s choice. Secondarily, webinars, in person group counseling, meditation/spiritual retreats as well as team building retreats.
Yet, the sensitivity exhibited by managers is a key factor to creating emotional safety in the workplace and a conducive environment where team members can work whilst feeling seen and cared for. The agony of having to hide a mental health issue is excruciating and will undeniably reduce productivity and profit.
Q Finally, please share with us some tips for leaders and employees to protect their mental health and wellbeing at work.
The taboo and shame that leaders experience when faced with mental health difficulties is even more painful as they are supposed to be the strong pillars an organisation depends on for guidance. It can feel very lonely as managers progress to the top of the corporate ladder. The shame and angst they feel will intensify their emotional symptoms and often lead them to deep levels of helplessness and depression.
Suicidality is statistically more frequent in higher levels of management as the anticipated ridicule or job loss associated with mental health issues is hard to bear.
We need to normalise the experience of mental health issues in all levels in corporate environments and talk openly about their existence. When the experience of mental challenges is no longer seen as a weakness or used as a weapon to fire executives and team members, then individuals will feel safe to talk about their struggles and seek professional help. It’s imperative that we change actively the work culture and the narrative around mental health issues at the workplace.
Frequent psychoeducation in the form of private counselling sessions, webinars, and group therapy should be available to employees on a weekly/monthly basis. Managers and team members should be taught how to recognise the symptoms of depression, anxiety, obsessiveness, burnout and suicidality.
I would like to provide some tips to safeguard your mental health:
- Reward yourself with pleasurable activities and relaxation after a difficult meeting or work week.
- Remember that you are not a robot and you need breaks to release stress, tension and reconnect with oneself as well as loved ones. Love is one of the best antidotes to mental health issues.
- Create a trusted community of likeminded non-judgmental people who can support you when you feel overwhelmed.
- If you feel burnout, stop all activities as soon as possible. Talk to your clinical mental health counsellor and your trusted community members. You are more important than any business deal. Timing is crucial in mental health. If you delay treatment, the condition can significantly worsen. You would not delay going to the doctor if you broke your arm. Why delay going to the counsellor if you have a 'broken heart'?
- Arrange weekly counselling sessions with a clinical mental health professional as you progress through the rankings of the corporate ladder. It will help you move through the transitions effortlessly and you will avoid major mental crises.
- Aim first for happiness, work-life balance and then success. Your happiness is the guarantee of the success.
Restart, recharge, reconnect at the fourth annual National Counselling & Psychotherapy Conference (NCPC 2022), a wellbeing conference dedicated to topics such as innovations in mental healthcare, mindfulness-centred practice, couples’ goals and staying connected post-pandemic, art therapy and children with special needs, and more. Find out how you can attend here.
Photo / HRO