Almost one billion people worldwide suffer from a mental or substance-use disorder, and the number has only grown as a result of the pandemic. So, it’s no surprise to have this reflected in the professional context, with depression and anxiety being prevalent in today’s workplace. In fact, according to a recent McKinsey survey, 90 per cent of employers polled said Covid-19 had impacted workforce mental health and productivity, with 75 per cent of Gen Z employees particularly affected.
Nevertheless, some proactive employers are promoting mutual responsibility for mental health in the office, with positive results and a boost in personnel’s well-being.
Does this apply in the Cyprus context? Are local employers shedding the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach to employee struggles with mental health? And what, if any, are the measures being taken to manage and reduce the problem of burnout?
We put these questions to Elena Krutova, Head of Global People Development at multi-asset broker Exness.
Till now, how has the traditional approach to mental health concerns been, in Cyprus work culture?
“The traditional approach to mental health was quite limited: mainly providing medical insurance and some entertainment activities for employees and their families. But, as the pandemic happened, many employers started to think how to make the life of employees better while they are working remotely from home, alone with their families, with no connections with colleagues, without these known human moments. This forced the development of mental health topics by companies around the world, and so we are doing significantly more than before.”
Would you say employers now are taking action in terms of mental health? And if so, how?
“Yes definitely, some companies started to introduce new practices, such as reactive activities by offering psychological counselling to employees, and proactive measures by offering an additional day for mental health, or reducing working hours on Fridays to spend more time with their families.
“Also, companies are putting additional efforts globally to help employees feel better in current circumstances, so the topic is emerging and we see good progress there.”
What integrated intervention strategies is Exness implementing to support employee mental health?
“We are doing a lot in both directions. First of all, we are trying to prevent any signs of burnout or mental health problems with simple activities: by allowing our employees to have their lunch without any disturbance or working meeting, or we have a rule that nobody sends any email after 6pm or responds to email only the next day. We also discuss with external speakers on how the company can support its people, what are the signs of mental illness, and so on.
“We also have reactive measures: if employees say they are stressed, burned out, lonely, or they need help, as a company we promote activities, tools, programmes or invite specialists to provide support for them to feel better.
“Our overall approach is treating our employees as human beings, as people with concerns, and needing to take care of them and their families as part of the community. Additionally, we create a community for the families and organise entertainment and educational events for the spouses and children. This brings huge value for both us and the employees; it also impacts positively on the performance of our employees.”
Are companies investing enough in employee well-being?
“We may see a number of companies promoting themselves as doing a lot, but, in reality, employees can still suffer, because mental health is not a topic you discuss every day. In many companies it is forbidden to talk about it; some employees may feel ashamed to address this topic as they will be considered strange.
“So, there is a discrepancy between what is said and what is done, and our strategy is to avoid this discrepancy, because we don’t want mental health to be stigmatised, with the idea that this is something that could happen to anyone. We promote awareness: if you are struggling, you should find a way to address that without fear of being punished or considered a strange person with strange needs.”
Up to 68 per cent of employees report that mental health challenges are still stigmatised in the workplace, and it’s clear there’s a significant disconnect in terms of their needs being met. What do you believe are the causes of this disconnect and how can employers overcome it?
“I believe in honesty and transparency and whatever you are trying to do, to do it with all your heart. If the company declares that they are taking care of their employees’ mental health, the efforts should be significant by doing their best.
“This discrepancy happens when you say something and do the opposite. For example, if you are promoting mental health and well-being, while employees are working longer hours and emails are being sent around midnight, this is not right.
“Therefore, as a company, all our actions should be supported respectively, and all our words should be connected to reality. In order to get real acceptance of this topic [of mental health] we need to say something about this topic, and take actions to prove it.”
How are companies, today, exposing and eliminating the stigma around mental health struggles?
“This is a complicated topic, because in many corporate cultures, employees don’t feel safe talking about it. In many cultures, the main motto is still ‘up or out’, where employees have to work a lot or deliver at their best level, despite their personal troubles or help they may require.
“In such cultures, people suffer more as they cannot express their concerns; the stigma appears because, on the one side, they want to be happy, while, on the other, company culture does not support it.
“So, employers should treat the topic seriously, otherwise, people will see the difference between the reality and the company’s declared values; as a result, corporate culture will suffer.”
How does the right mental health and well-being support impact employee productivity, and what are the results?
“I can say for myself: when I feel happy, when I feel empowered, I can do significantly more. Most importantly, I can find a creative solution for any problem that appears in my work. But if I feel depressed, if I feel not needed by my organisation, my productivity will be at the lowest level.
“Employees who enjoy their life and work do 10 times more than someone who is struggling, and there is a lot of research to support this. We see the difference: happy employees are more productive employees.”