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How prioritising mental health support can lead to a better work environment

Article-How prioritising mental health support can lead to a better work environment

Canva mental health.jpg
Investing in mental health is not just about reducing employee turnover. It is about fostering a holistic, supportive environment.

The challenges of modern life can be overwhelming, from financial burdens to the daily struggles of managing work and family. And for many of us, our jobs present their own unique challenges and pressures, from prolonged hours to overwhelming amounts of work and tight deadlines. All of these high-pressure situations can often lead to burnout at the workplace. 

In my role at Cigna Healthcare, I have seen the direct and indirect impact of mental health on work culture, productivity, and, ultimately, business success. There is a clear link between the employees’ well-being and an organisation’s overall health. 

Recently, the workplace landscape has dramatically shifted. Our annual 360 Well-being Survey illustrates this changing dynamic, revealing high levels of stress among employees and a profound disconnect between what employees expect from their employers and what they receive. Strikingly, 55 per cent of respondents in the UAE expressed a desire to change jobs – a number that has significantly increased in the past year, compared to a global average of 36 per cent. These findings underscore a pressing need for action. 

It is especially concerning that Gen Z employees seem to be particularly vulnerable and suffer from poor mental health at the workplace. Again, in our Cigna Healthcare survey, we found that 91 per cent of Gen Z workers, aged 18 to 24, reported feeling stressed, compared to the average of 84 per cent. There are various theories as to why this might be – this is a generation that studied for their degrees in isolation during the pandemic, heightening social anxiety, with precarious economic situations also taking a toll on them.  

Related: Harnessing virtual reality therapy for improved mental health

When placed in high-stress fields like the medical industry, where decisions can literally be a matter of life and death, the impact of such pressure on young professionals becomes even more apparent. This pattern is not limited to one profession alone – as employers, we have a responsibility to address these challenges wherever they appear. 

Internally, we recently launched a campaign called “The 5% Pledge”, urging CEOs, business leaders, and people managers to make a public commitment to set aside 5 per cent of their annual working hours to foster transformation in organisational cultures, proactively address employee well-being, and eliminate stigmas associated with mental health issues. By doing so, we can cultivate a progressive culture and attract top talent. 

But investing in mental health is not just about mitigating stress or reducing employee turnover, although these are important outcomes. It is about fostering a holistic, supportive environment that recognises the fundamental role of mental health in overall well-being. As we spend a significant portion of our lives at work, the workplace must be a space that promotes not just physical safety but psychological well-being too. 

The workplace often represents a primary social interaction hub, particularly for single employees, and a mentally healthy workplace can contribute positively to overall mental well-being. On the contrary, a toxic work environment can have severe repercussions, driving employees to seek other opportunities, as our survey reveals. 

Addressing gaps in mental healthcare 

Unfortunately, the current landscape lacks sufficient support for mental health guidance, not only in the medical field but across industries. There are significant gaps that need to be filled, and it is crucial for companies to address this. Tackling these challenges requires a multi-faceted approach that involves listening, developing, and implementing meaningful changes. From a business perspective, investing in mental health makes sense, as happier employees are more likely to perform better and stay with the company. 

Business and healthcare leaders play a pivotal role in creating a supportive work environment that promotes mental well-being. Organisations should foster a culture of openness and acceptance, encouraging employees to seek help without fear of judgement. Leaders should also invest in resources that support mental health, such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs), counselling services, and wellness initiatives. This could range from exercise and mindfulness sessions to reward schemes and guest speakers.  

Related: Diversity will lead the way to success in HealthTech

Also consider the wider company culture. For example, do employees feel they keep providing with no acknowledgement or reward, particularly when helping the company through difficult times? And how much does the ‘always on’ culture, with employees contactable via WhatsApp or email after hours, interfere with the work-life balance? Do you ever consider what is a reasonable amount of stress a person can endure? And are employees allowed enough breaks? 

Cigna Healthcare is uniquely positioned to understand the mental health challenges faced by individuals and organisations. These can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and higher healthcare costs. By investing in mental health, businesses can create a positive work environment that attracts and retains talented individuals and ultimately lead to better output. 

It is our responsibility as employers to recognise the challenges faced and provide guidance where needed. By creating a culture of acceptance, investing in mental health initiatives, and promoting well-being, we can build a workplace that not only benefits employees but enhances productivity and overall success.  

Jerome Droesch, CEO of Domestic Health & Health Services at Cigna International Health.jpg

Jerome Droesch is CEO of Domestic Health and Health Services at Cigna Healthcare

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