How companies are addressing mental health at the workplace

Recruitment agency Michael Page surveys South African employees about their mental health.

Covid-19 isn’t over, but companies across South Africa have learned to live with it. Recruitment agency Michael Page surveyed 333 applicants in South Africa from mid-May to mid-July 2021 to find out how they have coped since the outbreak of the pandemic, and how they think employers can support staff going forward.

Rays of hope
It’s not all bad news: when asked to sum up their mood in a single word, almost nine in 10 candidates responded positively. “Hopeful” was the most popular choice, followed by “motivated” and “confident”, suggesting that many professionals are putting the tough times behind them.

Half the job applicants reported not experiencing any negative symptoms (such as feeling stressed, anxious, or frustrated, weight loss, reduced sleep, etc.) due to the Covid-19 crisis.

With 21 percent reporting they do not work from home or remotely, 63 percent who work remotely said they do not feel lonely.

Significant reasons behind the optimism could be the partial or complete return to the office as early as May 2020. When asked if they felt lonely working from home, 45 percent of responders said they do not experience a sense of isolation, 29 percent said they felt lonely working remotely, whereas 25 percent of candidates said they don’t work from home or remotely.

The remote working experiment seems to be a success with professionals in South Africa. Eighty-three percent of respondents expected that one of the most significant outcomes of the Covid-19 crisis would be that companies will implement flexible work policies, such as opportunities to work remotely or to have flexible schedules.

How are companies in South Africa addressing mental health at the workplace?
Sixty-six percent of responders felt their managers showed empathy and understanding towards their mental health. When it came to the level of work-life balance, 60 percent of candidates responded they did not see a change. However, 44 percent reported feeling a higher sense of pressure in the current times and 35 percent felt discouraged about not getting the right credit for their work.

In the early days of the pandemic, professionals were experimenting with different strategies on how to adapt to the new ways of working in lockdowns as well as coping mechanisms to deal with mental health issues. Job applicants shared that their top coping strategies were keeping contact with friends and loved ones (54 percent), exercise (52 percent of respondents), eating healthily (51 percent) and maintaining professional focus to increase their on-the-job efficiency (50 percent).

More than half of respondents (56 percent) said their current or former company communicates about mental health and 52 percent said their company (current or former) has set up actions, policies, or events to take care of employees’ mental health.

Returning stronger
Job seekers offered their thoughts on organisational cultures that prioritise mental health. The majority of respondents (54 percent) believe that companies should lean in more strongly on flexible work patterns and consider policies like banning emails and meetings during non-official working hours. Fifty-two percent would like to see their company launching “wellbeing” initiatives running the gamut from meditation workshops to mindful eating courses.

Other popular ideas include better communication with managers to control time and task planning (46 percent) and 44 percent saying their management and leadership should be trained to better equip them to handle employee issues surrounding mental health.