Photo: Workplace mental health: the challenge for businesses to combine productivity and wellbeing. Credit: Freepik.

By Laura Muñoz Tarrío

It is estimated that one in four people worldwide suffer from a mental health problem, according to the United Nations. The most prevalent are depression and anxiety, disorders that also experienced a significant increase in the wake of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Symptoms of depression increased by 28%, affecting 246 million people worldwide, compared to 193 million before the pandemic. Anxiety conditions also increased by 25 per cent, from 298 million to 374 million, as reported in an article in the British medical journal The Lancet.

Work can ease stress and anxiety… but it can also exacerbate them

According to the WHO, employment has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, as it supports good mental health by providing “a livelihood, a sense of confidence, purpose and achievement, and an opportunity for positive relationships and integration into a community, as well as a platform for structured routines, among many other benefits”. However, it is estimated that around 15% of the world’s working population will suffer from a mental health problem at some point, directly impacting their productivity. Currently, around 12 billion working days are lost globally each year due to depression and anxiety, amounting to a loss of $1 trillion (952 million euros) annually.

According to the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work, the cause of this and other problems, such as burnout or stress, are psychosocial risks, those that derive from deficiencies in the design, organisation and management of work, as well as its social environment. Sergio Rodríguez, Opinno’s Head of Talent & Culture, explains that, to prevent these risks, it is essential to “define an organisational culture, implement tools to control workload and the pace of work, establish a career plan for professional development, organise team building sessions to foster relationships within the team and carry out regular work climate surveys”.

In this regard, organisations can also initiate actions related to emotional pay, i.e. tangible or intangible benefits of working for the company that have an impact on the employee’s quality of life which are not reflected in their salary: “This includes measures such as flexible working hours, hybrid work arrangements or access to gyms, training and supervised classes,” says Julia Martínez, Talent Acquisition Specialist at Opinno.

Training is also an integral component of these benefits. These include ‘reskilling’ programmes, focused on learning new skills, or ‘upskilling’ programmes, aimed at improving skills in order to achieve promotions. Also ‘coaching’, which acts as an accompaniment to “train” the employee to reach their maximum potential.

Photo: Workplace mental health: the challenge for businesses to combine productivity and wellbeing. Credit: Freepik.

What type of initiatives are being implemented in the market?

Focusing on employee wellbeing not only helps to improve productivity levels, but also contributes to attracting and retaining talent, an essential measure considering that 15% of professionals globally changed jobs in the last six months of 2022, according to Randstad. For this reason, many companies are implementing initiatives that prioritise mental health in the workplace.

Amazon, for example, has introduced direct access to mental health-related resources on its company app, as well as providing its employees with educational videos on the topic, flexible working hours and leave when needed. As for Google, it has implemented automated text prompts for mental health-related terms, notably suicide. In doing so, it aims to help those affected to initiate a self-help dialogue.

On the other hand, Telefónica provides a health and well-being programme which, in addition to measures aimed at improving the employee’s working environment, “integrates other measures, such as physical, emotional, mental, digital, financial and social well-being”, according to the company’s head of employee experience, David Alonso, in El País. A similar initiative is also underway at Danone Iberia, its BeWell programme, which works across three areas: physical health, mental or emotional wellbeing and nutritional health.

Mahou San Miguel is also working along the same lines. The company has “Health Spaces” in its workplaces, enabling their employees to exercise free of charge and with professional advice. The company is also carrying out programmes for psychological support and the responsible use of digital devices, among others.

With this trend on the rise, some start-ups are also developing tools which help companies to implement this kind of initiative. An example of this is Happyforce, a software that continually measures the emotional state of employees, as well as their engagement level, using digital applications supported by artificial intelligence. Another example is With this trend on the rise, some start-ups are also developing tools which help companies to implement this kind of initiative. An example of this is Happyforce, a software that continually measures the emotional state of employees, as well as their engagement level, using digital applications supported by artificial intelligence. Another example is PSonríe, which offers psychological care services to companies using an app through which employees can schedule appointments with different mental health professionals. , which offers psychological care services to companies using an app through which employees can schedule appointments with different mental health professionals.

A number of companies are adopting initiatives designed to preserve workplace mental health, as it contributes to employee motivation and engagement, as well as creating a positive and productive work environment. However, to be effective, they need to be led by teams that “promote active listening, breaks and a feedback culture, as well as being trained in emotional skills, diversity and inclusive environments”, says Sergio Rodríguez. In this way, organisations contribute to reducing the stigma associated with these issues and provide people with the necessary tools to deal with them.

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