I logged on to the social medial on Sunday morning and the first story I saw was the trendy headline of the Banker who committed suicide and this got me very disturbed. I was not too concerned about the real reason behind his intentions because there are many versions of that story for now but I was looking at it from the position of Occupational Health and wellness.
I may think in this direction perhaps because of my profession but we have always advocated that employees’ health and wellness must be fully integrated into the overlapping wheels of good business processes. We do not currently have that in most organisations in Nigeria even when the global economic hardship places so much pressure on everyone, we all feel the huge negative effects but no one seems to talk about it. We are all mute and mutually frustrated and productivity suffers leading to more round of pressure on employees to scale up. This has been the cycle.
When we look at the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of Health and Wellness, it says “it is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely absence of disease or infirmity. When we look at workplace wellness and health in this context, you will realise an employee can be present at work with no disease or illness and yet not well when weighed in health and wellness balances. The question is, what are we doing wrongly?
In the new global workplace we have all found ourselves, there is this huge temptation to place profit above the health and wellbeing of employees. Even in most places, profit is the only tone and cultural body language present, not employees’ wellness or wellbeing and health. Occupational health has evolved beyond just looking at accident prevention and physical harm to employees but also looking at the harm to employees which we do not see physically, yet the employee is in total distress and suffers silently. This class of harm is the emotional harm suffered by employees in the course of performing within the scope of their task; these are the psychosocial issues such as burnouts, stress, work overload, work-family balance, fatigue, workplace harassment and a number of other associated non tangible issues. Stress for example, is not like an open injury that can be seen and dressed, burnout is not like tumour that can be opened and removed, they are not like open cuts that can be plastered but the effect far outweigh all of the former. Work related emotional harm is a very complex condition that must be systematically addressed from its root.
Workplace health and wellness studies have recommended employees’ engagement as a much useful tool is giving employees the psychological support in delivering in their organisational expectations. This is as simple as doing nothing but because the management process has not been clearly defined in our culture, that become so deficient in our corporate DNA and both the employees and employers suffer for it. Absence of employees’ engagement could make organisations loose so much without knowing, everyone moves on as it all is well and good. This is where Occupational Health interface with Human Resources has become very imperative; we all must remember that management is all about people, not just things.
Managers need to understand that employees are people with finite emotional capacity. If there is something happening in their personal lives, they have limited capacity left to deal with issues at work. Most of the cases bothering around underperformance by employees, it has nothing to do with work they are most times traceable to homes. Employees’ home and family has become an integral part of employees’ health and wellness. When good people have challenges, Managers and Management need to carry them, pull them through if they are indeed part of your team. We preach team spirit but when things go wrong, we are so quick to execute our team member without looking at how it negatively impacts on team members we have left. If managers learn to carry employees when they most need it, we become a stronger community and we empower people in ways we probably cannot imagine. A re-invigorated broken employee is an organisation’s most powerful force; they become better version of themselves automatically. So we as managers need to understand, it is people we are managing and every act we put up has a great influence on emotions.
Most times employees burnout without anyone recognising it, a most versatile employee who has reclined to the point that he is now hardly seen. We should be concerned and investigate what such employee is going through. We need mutual support to erupt again and let’s remember the employees spend an average of 7 hours in the office, so the work environment and the people are great influencers on the employees’ overall outcomes.
What about Employees Assistance Program (EAP), this is lacking in most work environment that we see day. Who does the employee talk to when he is bereaved? Are there debriefing processes? Are there provisions for counsellors or Psychologists whether within or without? Is there a return to work policy and processes after illness or you just migrate from hospital bed back to the office? Have we created a work environment that creates room for trust so that employees can open up and be frank with the Counsellors and available mental health support professionals?
There are new and emerging workplaces diseases, illnesses and conditions lately and they are all offshoot of the workplace conditions. Globally, ageing workforce is fast becoming an issue; people are also going into early retirement because their health conditions would not allow them to reach the ideal age for retirement. Most of these issues are being linked to workplace conditions.
Now we are having with us not just suicide ideation but suicide in the real sense of it. When we drive employees far beyond what they can handle, we will have issues as these coming our way.
Can we relax the work environment knowing that an employee who is not at his or her peak today could become a super performer tomorrow?
Can organisations focus less on profit and take a look also at the health and wellness of the employees?
Can we change the harsh language and tone in managing people at work, let’s once again humanise our workplaces and make employees regain pride in what they do and regain self esteem
If the workplaces, processes, management systems and policies do not change, we will have more issues that will break our hearts just like this trendy case of the Banker who committed suicide.
Shane Rogers: Goodstart Early Learning