The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that mental health issues such as depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity in a recent study. Unemployment is a well-recognized risk factor for mental health problems, while returning to, or getting work offers protective cover. A negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity.
Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.
There are many risk factors for mental health that may be present in the working environment. Most risks relate to interactions between type of work, the organizational and managerial environment, the skills and competencies of employees, and the support available for employees to carry out their work.
Some of the identified risks to mental health include:
- inadequate health and safety policies;
- poor communication and management practices;
- limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work;
- low levels of support for employees;
- inflexible working hours; and
- unclear tasks or organizational objectives.
Risks may also be related to job content, such as unsuitable tasks for the person’s competencies or a high and unrelenting workload. Some jobs may carry a higher personal risk than others (e.g. first responders and humanitarian workers), which can have an impact on mental health and be a cause of symptoms of mental disorders, or lead to harmful use of alcohol or psychoactive drugs. Risk may be increased in situations where there is a lack of team cohesion or social support.
There are many practices within the Nigerian workplace that could impact the mental health of employees negatively. For instance, the recapitalization policy of commercial banks in Nigeria has encouraged the practice of institutionalizing unrealistic and outrageous sales targets. As a result of the relatively high rate of unemployment in Nigeria, many employees of such banks are left with little or no alternative but to comply with these demands. The consequences attributable to such a scenario usually manifests in the distortion of the mental wellbeing of employees.
Another example is the issue of job security in the Nigerian workplace. A perspective to this is that, organizations are constantly looking for fresh talent to enhance their bottom line. However, in such circumstances, employees who may have served an organization for several years but do not
necessarily possess premium academic qualifications, may harbour the fear of being displaced by younger talents who may have had access to international education and training. This type of situation, which is quite prevalent in Nigeria, has apparent implications for mental health of individuals.
In 2019, WellNewMe and Dennis Ashley Medical Clinic, a clinical facility dedicated to providing and improving the standards of patient centric care in Nigeria, carried out a survey with over 6,800 employees, between the ages of 20 and 60, from across Nigeria were surveyed on a wide variety of mental health issues.
What we found was that 79% of the employees survey were at an increased risk for mental health issues with no difference between either gender.
According to the WHO, the incidence rate for depression in Nigeria is 4%, which is about half of the value we found for employees who at are increased risk for developing the condition at the time they took the survey.
Just under 40% of employees are at increased risk due to a lack of adequate emotional and social support, with men more likely to suffer than women.
A third of all the employees surveyed expressed an increased inability to cope with either at work or home with women a more increased risk than men.
A third of all the employees surveyed were determined to have an increased risk to being stressed as a result of work.
Some of the workplace stress factors that were analysed during the survey showing that just under 40% of employees have enough energy for after work leisure activities, and 10% finding work emotionally draining.
More than half of all the employees reported not getting enough sleep in order to function properly at work with women were slightly more than men to not be getting enough sleep.
More than a fifth of the employees are at an increased risk of suffering from financial worries as they had borrow twice or more over a period of 6 months before taking the survey.
Only 1% of all employees reported using recreational drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy.
Making the Case for Interventions
Over the years, organizations have demonstrated a lack of the comprehension and acknowledgement of the impact of mental health problems on organizational life. However,
in the light of the changing environment in which organizations operate and compete, it is imperative to support employees by addressing, not just physical health, as a lot currently do but
mental health as well.
It is important that organizations begin to strategize around the idea of mental health promotion as an investment against absenteeism, depression, burnout/stress, poor performance, workplace incidents, poor decision-making, loss of motivation, conflicts, poor relationships with colleagues and their clientele.
Emotional and mental constitution is crucial to human performance and the competitive advantage employers seek is elusive without prioritising the physical and mental health of employees. Organizations must be fully committed to creating a cultural climate that promotes civility, equity, transparency, work-life balance and health promotion.
A healthy workplace is one where workers and managers actively contribute to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety and well-being of all employees. It has been suggested that interventions should take a 3-pronged approach:
- Protect mental health by reducing work–related risk factors;
- Promote mental health by developing the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees;
- Address mental health problems regardless of cause.
Interventions and good practices that protect and promote mental wellbeing in the workplace include:
- Implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices, including identification of distress, harmful use of psychoactive substances and illness and providing resources to manage them;
- Informing staff that support is available;
- Involving employees in decision-making, conveying a feeling of control and participation; organizational practices that support a healthy work-life balance;
- Programmes for career development of employees; and
- Recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees.
Mental health interventions should be delivered as part of an integrated health and well-being strategy that covers prevention, early identification, support and rehabilitation. Occupational health service providers or professionals may support organizations in implementing these interventions where they are available, but even when they are not, several changes can be made that may protect and promote mental health. Key to success is involving stakeholders and staff at all levels when providing protection, promotion, and support interventions and when monitoring their effectiveness.
The Nigerian workplace can benefit immensely from education and awareness on the pervasiveness of mental health problems, common misconceptions and lifestyle choices that will foster positive mental health. Education and awareness interventions must be based on pertinent themes such as
fitness, healthy eating, alcohol and smoking cessation, managing workload and interpersonal relations, adapting to changes, managing realities constructively, building emotional stability, developing resilience, and seeking counselling.
In recruiting new employees, human resource managers are currently more likely to be interested in the brightest candidates without necessarily considering their mental health profiles. Pre-employment medical assessments do not usually include a mental health assessment and employee training programmes do not cover the area of mental health. Human resource personnel must be equipped with the knowledge of mental health, to provide support, counselling and an inclusive environment for employees.
You can download the full survey report here:
The_2019_Nigeria_Workplace_Mental_Health_Survey.pdf (512.09 kb)