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Empowering Mental Health as a Culture at the Workplace

Studies are increasingly showing that our mental health affects how we navigate our work space. It influences how we interact with our co workers and has a big impact on how we interpret things at work. Investment in the understanding of mental health and how it affects our workforce is therefore an investment in our workforce.

In our global and increasingly complex economy, we have largely moved on from physical production. Much of a corporation's "product" is therefore its workforce. Not only do they represent your company, they are your product. Supporting your employees is therefore akin to investing in research and development in a physical product.


Human beings are by nature emotional creatures. Our everyday decisions and actions are influenced by how we feel that day. It affects us more than we are willing to admit but we ignore this at our peril.

As a leader, we can either support our team or pretend that emotions and feelings are not part of the human experience. The latter is not only artificial but would arguably create a repressed atmosphere where people feel isolated and unsupported.

Complaining about the inability to hire or retain reliable staff is a refrain that is commonly heard. Yet, there appears to be a gap in trying to understand why this is the case. It is easy to push the blame on millennials who do not have a good work ethic. This is however simplistic to say the least.

Could it be that millennials are far more advanced in understanding their feelings and less willing to tolerate an atmosphere where unconscious bullying is tolerated? Do we currently have an atmosphere that is robotic and unwelcoming?

As a first step, companies have to recognise that feelings affect our decisions. That acknowledgement goes a long way into creating a more "human" and "inclusive" environment for people to express themselves healthily thereby negating sudden actions or outbursts that seem to appear out of the blue and affects productivity.


We are schooled into thinking that we must make objective decisions at work and that compartmentalising is key at work. This is an impossibility. Trying to live up to this standard of absolute objectivity is misleading. It creates an environment where we refuse or are unable to recognise that mistakes are made because we have had a bad day. Instead, we try and justify our mistakes with every excuse under the sun except for the genuine reason – that is that we have had a bad day!

Everyone is susceptible to having a bad day and making decisions that we might not have made on another day is more common than we care to admit. Why then do we have such trouble owning up to it?

Do we sub consciously view emotions at work as a bad thing?

If we can own up to having a bad day in the first instance, many mistakes can be avoided. As leaders, can we not be more open about our own bad days?

Understanding the role emotions play in our day to day work and then acknowledging its impact will reduce the need to "damage control" after mistakes are already made.


We are so ingrained into the fallacy of objectivity in the work space that we fail to spot the build up of emotions until after a boo boo is made. If leaders are able to spot the signs of an emotional build up, this would prevent the problem in the first place. As the old adage goes – prevention is better than cure.


Do we talk openly about mental health at the work space? Is it seen as a weakness? Cultural change is essential for this. As leaders, we need to inculcate a culture where mental health issues are not seen as a weakness or an impediment to career progression.

A 2017 NCSS survey of 505 companies found that every $1 invested in workplace adjustments like access to counselling, flexi-work arrangements and job re-design, generated an average return of S$5.60. Benefits included reduction in absenteeism, reduction in medical claims and increase in average working hours per employee per week. 

As an employer and leader, you can set the tone and build an inclusive culture to support employees' mental health through three areas - knowledge, practice and environment.

Unfortunately, it can feel like a millstone when a company is trying to push through a significant change in supporting mental health at workplace. Cultural inclinations are well entrenched, for good or bad. But it’s possible to draw on the positive aspects of culture, turning them to your advantage, and offset some of the negative aspects as you go. This approach makes change far easier to implement.


How does Engaging Leaders help our clients in navigating the existing culture and legacy issues to effect change?


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