Supporting employee mental health wellness

20 September 2021 | Opinion

The impact of Covid-19 on mental health has been felt across the globe. Many of us have faced and/or are facing challenges that have stirred strong emotions and caused much stress and anxiety.
In fact, research has shown that population mental health has deteriorated significantly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and that rates of anxiety, depression and mental distress increased in 2020 compared to previous years.
Furthermore, population mental health has gone up and down in different ‘waves’, with peaks of mental distress closely correlated with peaks in Covid-19 deaths, and periods when pandemic control measures were most stringent. Importantly, there has been renewed focus on this mental health impact of the pandemic on the global population.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has placed increasing emphasis on mental health, integrating this important topic into preparedness and response plans for public health emergencies, and providing guidance and advice during the pandemic for health workers, managers of health facilities, people who are looking after children, older adults, people in isolation and members of the public more generally.
Generally, research supports the notion that addressing the mental health impact of Covid-19 requires a whole-of-society response.

Workplaces not spared
Naturally, workplaces have not been spared from the mental health impact of the pandemic. It has substantially changed the way we work and engage, and caused massive unemployment, which in itself is a major trigger for mental health issues.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that some of the common work-related factors that can add to stress during a pandemic include: concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work, taking care of personal and family needs while working, managing a different workload and lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform your job.
Other factors include feelings that you are not contributing enough to work or guilt about not being on the frontline, uncertainty about the future of your workplace and/or employment, learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties, and adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule.
Against this background, it is vital that employees have the necessary resources on hand to deal with the fear, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues that may arise for them as a result of the pandemic and all the uncertainty it presents.
Old Mutual has recognized that everyone has been impacted in some way or another by the pandemic, and has set in place countless initiatives for employees to have the tools and necessary support to handle the challenges, whether personal or professional.
Across Africa, group employees have free, round-the-clock access to the confidential and professional counselling service provided by clinical psychologists, registered counsellors and social workers at ICAS. These counsellors are qualified to provide psychological support on a range of issues, including relationship issues (family, friends, colleagues), stress, anxiety and depression, grief and trauma, substance abuse, financial challenges (debt, budgeting etc.), and workplace issues and conflict (excluding labour related issues).
Steven Vries, Old Mutual acting human capital executive, notes that, “the sorrows, disruptions and mental health issues caused by Covid-19 have made it more important than ever for all our employees (and their immediate family members) to have access to a professional service that can help them find ways of coping.

Engaging employees
“As a company that cares, providing this service aligns with our purpose of championing mutually positive futures for all our stakeholders, including employees. It’s also part of our business strategy to ensure our employees are engaged and able to bring themselves fully to work. But beyond these reasons, we’re doing this because caring for one another and facing the challenges together is absolutely the right thing to do.”
Beyond providing the ICAS counselling services, Old Mutual Namibia has also put in place several wellness initiatives to help employees maintain their mental health and remain educated on pandemic-related issues.
Amongst others, virtual sessions with healthcare professional on topics such as mental health during Covid-19, the effect of the pandemic on the workplace, and Let’s Talk About Vaccines sessions have been conducted to engage with employees.
Upcoming sessions will focus on loss, mortality and grief with Covid-19, trauma management, pandemic fatigue, and managing stress & anxiety.
Old Mutual Namibia also sends out We Care Packs to employees who test positive for Covid-19, and has provided vitamin packs to all employees.
Old Mutual is convinced that being part of the whole-of-society response noted earlier is not only important for employees, their morale, and their ability to cope with the challenges presented by the pandemic, but also for their families, friends, our clients and other stakeholders and, indeed, all of society.
The group is continuously exploring ways in which to improve the way it cares for its employees, and remains focused on ensuring resilience in the times in which we live.

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