Employee Experience

Mental Health in the Organization: Challenges of Working in Serbia and Abroad

We are constantly hearing about the importance of paying attention to physical health, and lately, in view of the circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic in which the world has found itself, the question of the importance of mental health has also been raised.

Mental health can be defined as emotional, psychological and social well-being – a state in which a person can realize his or her own potential, cope with stress in daily life, as well as be productive in work and contribute to the community.

The Stevenson-Farmer review into workplace mental health published in 2017 defines six basic principles of mental health. The research states that what an employer can do is to:

  • implement a plan for improving mental health, with support for employees who are starting work in the company, but also at regular intervals thereafter
  • develop an awareness of the importance of mental health
  • provide good working conditions, life balance and opportunities for advancement
  • facilitate regular and open discussions on mental health issues between employees and superiors 
  • promote effective people management
  • regularly monitor and evaluate employee satisfaction in order to improve mental health.

Talking about mental health is still taboo in many countries, including our own. Research has shown that employees rarely communicate openly that they have mental health issues and that they take leave citing different reasons.

When searching for mental health on the Internet, the first results that will appear will be questions like: “Can I be fired for having mental health problems?”, “Am I allowed to take time off work for mental health reasons?”, “How do I tell my boss I have mental health issues?”

Mental health problems can lead to increased absenteeism and employee fluctuations, which is why open communication with employees and focusing on mental health is a very important task for all employers. According to a study conducted in the UK, the cost of absences due to mental health problems in 2020 was as much as 14 billion pounds. 

By all accounts, we are now living in very turbulent and tense times that have gripped the world. Even if we were to exclude the global pandemic, there are political uncertainties, global natural disasters, and an accelerated daily routine, enough to keep our stress levels at an enviably high level.

Each of us has our own individual level of resilience to stress – some are more resilient while some find it very difficult to cope with the challenges and adversities in life. Doubtless, the amount of stress to which we are exposed daily is significantly higher than the level of stress our parents have encountered at our age.

It is for that reason also why we need to pay special attention to our mental health and build healthy mechanisms and a safe environment that will help us cope with the stress.

What experts point out is important when it comes to mental health care is a healthy life, developing resilience to stress, as well as creating a circle of support (“safe net”) that will be there for us when times are tough.

Given that a third of our time, and sometimes more, is spent at work, the employer faces a major mental health challenge – how to protect employees so that they are happier and more content at work, and thereby more productive?

In our company, which operates in nine different markets on two continents, whose majority support comes from Serbia, and where we are not able to meet with all employees every day, this is a particular challenge. When the global pandemic that has engulfed the world is taken into account, on top of everything else, the situation gets even more complicated – the way everyday work and work obligations have completely changed, but in totally different ways for office and field employees.

At first, colleagues who work in the office switched to work from home, while field workers continued to work every day all over the world, but with slightly more complicated logistics than before. How to be there for employees in such situations and help them when it gets hard?

People who work in Serbia encounter daily work from home, lack a sense of belonging to the team and the company, juggle between private and business commitments, while people who work abroad, thousands of kilometers away from Serbia, face questions about when the borders will be opened, what are the conditions for returning to Serbia, when will they see their families, etc. All in all, tough challenges, right?

In the face of such a situation, employees can feel insecure and stressed. To focus on mental health and employee satisfaction, we have done the following:

  • improved communication with employees through various channels:
    – communication of line managers with employees – through regular meetings, information on new developments and creating a positive work atmosphere
    – communication with employees through internal communication channels
    – constant communication between the HR team and employees
  • shared tips and guidelines on improving and preserving mental health
  • measured employee satisfaction on a weekly basis through a short, non-anonymous survey (with a particular focus on mental health), so that we can respond in a timely manner if any of the employees have challenges that need to be addressed
  • improved management in the field of management skills and communication with employees
  • organized joint activities to connect employees in all markets and strengthen the sense of connection with the company
  • improved employee benefits
  • improved ways of giving feedback to employees.

Of course, the challenges we face are not easy and are not easy to solve – as mentioned earlier in the text. Every one of us has individual levels of resilience to stress, what is stressful to some, may not be stressful to others. So, to us who work with employees, it is not easy to find activities that will suit everyone – especially when we consider cultural differences of employees in different countries – expectations of employees in the USA, Norway, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Germany are different.

Also, it takes time for employees to feel safe enough to talk openly about their problems – what is important is that if an employee says he has a problem, we listen to him, respect him, and try to solve the problem without stigmatization or discrimination.

If an employee has not been home for a long time and has not seen his family, feels anxious and is not productive, it is important to proactively approach the solution to the problem, respect his problem and give him full support to resolve his issues – after that he will be much more productive at work than before, and in addition, loyalty to the company will be higher. 

What we see as a continuation and improvement of the above activities is:

  • organization of workshops on mental health for managers and employees
  • organization of stress resilience workshops
  • activities to strengthen openness in company communication.

Ultimately, having a mental health specialist and counselor who would be in daily communication with employees and who would assist with both business and private challenges would be of great benefit to the mental health of employees. 

Working on mental health can only contribute to the productivity and efficiency of employees, and ultimately to the company’s growth and progress. 

Author: Roaming Networks

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