Worker’s health and wellness have become a human right in modern age, an ethical question for corporations that, for that reason, started implementing labor health and safety requirements and wellness programs. Companies quickly understood labor accidents result in inefficiency and lost of profitability. The next step, therefore, would have been to think about prevention.
In this array of themes related to health and wellness, “invisible” diseases or ailments were little discussed. Society itself needed to mature and overcome the taboo and the intrinsic lack of information revolving around mental health. Hardly would an individual reveal to one’s family members or personal circle what was generally understood as a “weakness”. In a setting where the boundary between personal life and professional life was deliberately evident and well defined, revealing that “ailing condition” might be a certificate of incompetence. Partly for the naivety of blaming the individual for not knowing how to manage emotions, or for being dramatic or pessimistic. Partly for the tacit group pressure that the corporate environment should be unarguably alexithymic, thus democratizing apathetic environments as synonymous with formal.
Suppressed weeping behind bathroom closed doors; constant inattention to everyday activities; the uncontrolled urges of nerves, anger or grumpiness that spills onto the others around; subtle and increasingly more frequent isolation; up to reaching the point of physical distancing for a disease already crystallized in the organism, which allows justifying one’s absence without creating a sensation of discomfort, impotence or inadequacy.
COVID-19 has not brought a new subject to light. It has only spotlighted a neglected subject, as a dusty chair forgotten in the dark corner of a room.
Introducing the focus on mental and emotional health as part of wellness programs might be the start of a behavioral change. By doing so, companies can approach the theme and structure actions contemplating three spheres.
Firstly, from the organization’s own perspective, by revisiting people management systems. By “management systems”, we are referring especially to activities ranging from discussions to set unachievable targets, to the review of what is actually expected in extremely competitive high-performance environments, and of what in fact we should recognize and reward.
Secondly, from the leadership perspective, how to prepare managers and executives to identify suspicious behaviors or indications of mental overload and overwhelming negative emotions. Once identified, prepare them to approach the situation discreetly, whether as a direct listener to support the best decision to be made, or referring a healthcare professional available within the organization, or also someone in HR responsible for addressing sensitive personal issues of mental health with the degree of confidentiality and sensitivity the situation requires. What matters is to approach it empathetically and ensure psychological security to whoever is experiencing a fragile moment, so that they may rely on the company’s support without adding the fear or insecurity of termination or discrimination to already-existing mental and emotional concerns. Above all, leadership must be mindful of how to prevent toxic environments, by taking onto themselves the responsibility for building spaces that foster increasingly safer environments, where the targeted results are feasible, diversity is a reason for inclusion, and flexible environments are experienced to the best of their proposition.
Lastly, by approaching the theme from the personal perspective of self-knowledge. The organization’s position towards mental health is a relevant factor to promote conversations and provide openness for individuals to reflect on the subject and, as such, feel more confident to express their limitations, as well as reach responsible compromises also from the individual standpoint. (Re)prioritizing tasks with one’s manager, knowing how to say “no” if a new attribution represents an expressive overload, reconciling better one’s personal plan and focusing on the productivity of deliveries, not necessarily on the hours worked, seeking professional help through therapies, alternative therapies, inclusion of a hobby or physical activity in the weekly routine. The more organizations manage to include the subject in their training programs, open spaces for dialog that approach mental health without biases, offer workshops or events with healthcare professionals to warn and educate people – the more aware they will become, and the more accountable they will be for their own health.
This still is a path little traveled by many companies. There is no undisputable readymade knowledge nor packaged methods for mass execution. Individuals in similar mental-health conditions may experience different symptoms at different degrees. That is an added challenge to prepare the work environment to deal with specific needs. Nonetheless, taking the dusty chair out of the dark corner of the room, cleaning it and giving it some use is the first step to breaking the silence and starting to build a more inclusive culture, in this sense, breaking down myths and starting to deal with facts.
Pida Lamin is a BMI senior partner. Graduated in Social Communication from PUCCAMP, with specialization in Human Resources from FGV. A Master’s candidate in Business Management at FIA Business School. Nearly 30 years’ experience in the Human Resources area in large-sized multinationals in different industries, in the past 15 years Lamin held positions in executive committees of companies such as Schneider Electric, Novartis, TNT Express, L'Occitane, Sanofi and Hospital Sírio Libanês. Proven experience leading cultural transformation and leadership development processes, especially triggered by mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs, changes in organizational models, to mention a few.
Marília Ferreira is a BMI Blue Management Institute associate. Graduated in History and Foreign Relations from PUC Minas, with specialization in Business Management from FDC. Experienced in the corporate sustainability area, carrying out strategic plans for major companies in finance, healthcare and the retail. Was technical member in FDC’s Inclusive Markets project, and in projects related to gender and environmental conflicts with UN agencies.
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