Forum Institutional

How to address mental health challenges in the corporate world

The World Economic Forum has launched a new initiative focused on Workplace Mental Health.

The World Economic Forum has launched a new initiative focused on Workplace Mental Health. Image: Freepik.com

Ana Luiza Correa Borges
Emotional Health Specialist , Vale
Suzana Gonsalves de Aguiar de Paiva
Specialist Health Analyst, Vale
Ruma Bhargava
Lead, Mental Health, World Economic Forum
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  • Globally, approximately 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety.
  • Organizations face the challenge of managing the mental health of their employees alongside other corporate demands.
  • The World Economic Forum has launched a new initiative focused on Workplace Mental Health.

Mental health, particularly mental health in the workplace, has been gaining more and more attention in the corporate world. Roughly 15% of working-age adults were estimated to have a mental disorder in 2019. Globally, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety at a cost of $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

We now face the challenge of managing the mental health of employees alongside other initiatives such as safety, enabling environments, productivity, innovation, people management, and mandatory training.

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We need to address mental health within this organizational context

and try to create meaning in the face of uncertainties. In addition to organizational challenges, we also must consider individual and populational challenges. Often, employee health management is inefficient and rather limited in terms of access to resources.

What are the factors impacting mental health?

An individual’s mental health undergoes direct and indirect impacts from several factors, for example, genetics, family history, access to health, nutrition, lifestyle, substance use, type of work, social media, economic factors, and many others. We can influence some of these risk factors, for example, lifestyle and organizational environment, so we should consider them when managing mental health initiatives.

There are some job characteristics we can control, for example, organizational culture, workload, autonomy, the relationship between peers and leadership, acknowledgement, remuneration, organizational climate, dynamics of relationships, interfaces, and even interfacing sectors. Leadership style and tolerance towards moral and sexual harassment, racism, and lack of diversity and inclusion also create an unfavourable mental health environment.

Mental health protection clearly stems from a large network of elements. Abusive practices or poor stress management are risk factors for mental health, whereas a safe work environment with appropriate structures, social support and healthy leadership are protective mental health factors.

This approach is sensitive to regional factors, for example how mental health is understood in certain cultures. Removing the stigma which keeps people from asking for help is essential, both within their closest relationship circles and with professional health experts. We need to provide people with a means of expanding their self-awareness so they can access expert support.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

How can we support mental health at work?

The World Economic Forum has launched a new initiative focused on Workplace Mental Health. The initiative aims to give an understanding of current practices implemented by organizations to enhance the mental health of their employees and evaluate these practices to determine how they benefit both the employee and the organization. The initiative will also encourage organizations to implement the WHO Guidelines on Mental Health at Work at all three levels: organizational, managerial, and individual.

Vale, one of the largest mining companies in the world, will be part of the Forum's initiative. The company has given special attention to this topic, through global processes and procedures to address workers’ disabilities, especially those related to musculoskeletal and mental disorders. Through a three-care-level approach (primary, secondary, and tertiary attention) the company considers all stakeholders (managers, occupational health workers, and HR), with the employee at the centre – ensuring quality of life and recovery for each individual under medical treatment.

Focusing on mental health, the company designed the Mines for Minds Program, aimed at fostering people’s literacy on the topic and care initiatives with the employee, including a mental health self-assessment, offering different ways to ask for help, as well as direct intervention for critical situations.

In addition to individual care for each employee, the company has also established collective mental health information, considering physical and relationship aspects within the company and organizational climate. A focused plan for improvement fosters a psychologically safe environment, with enhanced work dynamics, relationships, and conditions.

Through corporate governance specializing in mental health matters, it is possible to monitor a company's evolution. Often companies are in remote areas, with restricted access to specialized professionals, thus forcing people to seek alternative solutions, such as telemedicine and remote psychological service.

Lastly, it is worth noting that all such initiatives and large-scale mental health projects will only be successful if a favourable mental health environment is maintained and valued by the company and its leadership. Transforming or saving lives in the event of mental health emergencies is critical.

Building a positive workplace culture

Mental health is a crucial aspect that should not be overlooked in the corporate world, especially in the midst of competing demands for resources. It is essential to recognize individual and populational challenges and provide access to necessary resources to support employees' mental health. Companies must observe and adjust job characteristics and leadership styles, fostering a psychologically safe environment that promotes employees' physical, social, and behavioural health.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Forum InstitutionalHealth and Healthcare SystemsWellbeing and Mental Health
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