Mental Health at Workplace

-Sujan Shrestha and Kripa Sigdel


In today’s busy world human life has been reduced to mere mechanistic ritual of making a livelihood. Every adult’s life is subsumed by the conundrums of their work which after some times have the greater likelihood of being monotonous. Being in the constant pressure of workload, deadlines, pleasing the boss, yearning for extra buck and recognition among colleagues can be deterrent for our mental health. In this context, to make us all aware of the work related stress and its impact in our mental health World Health Organization (WHO) has decided to celebrate this year’s world mental health day, October 10,  with the theme ‘ mental health in workplace’

Any work is better than no work?

Undoubtedly, it’s good for our overall wellbeing for us to be employed rather than staying idle. But, at the same time, negative working environment can be the potential stressor in life threatening our mental health. The recent study conducted by Chandola and Zhang (2017) in the UK revealed a quiet insightful finding. The study was done between the population who were re-employed in poor quality jobs and those who were unemployed. They found out that the population who were unemployed had lesser biomarkers of stress than those who were reemployed in bad working condition. This research has elicited the crucial understanding that any sort of job may not necessarily be better than no job. We need to focus on qualitative aspect of job rather than a job itself.

Cost of mental health problems

Negative working condition is very stressful for employees. This stress results from many sources. Some of the chief sources are: workload, inflexible work schedules, poorly managed shift works, intrapersonal conflict, low participation in decision making, job insecurity, poor pay, low social relationship, conflict with supervisors and managers, bullying and harassment etc. All these factors can lead to mental health problems such as burnout, anxiety, depression , substance abuse and some may even resort to suicide. All these have downward effect on the productivity of the job.  As per WHO, depression and anxiety have been attributed for costing global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

One of the glaring evidence in Nepali context has been the news of suicide of those who went for foreign employment in Middle east countries, Korea and Japan. The report, “When the Safety of Nepal Migrant Workers Fails” published by International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2016, attributes suicide as being responsible for  about 10 % of all the deaths in foreign employment. The report compiled the number of deaths from the year 2008 -2015. Out of many reasons we can speculate negative working condition, work related stress and job dissatisfaction having contributory causal role to the suicide .

People with mental health problems have been suffering doubly. On top of their detrimental condition they have to bear the brunt of social stigma. They are seen as unfit for work. First of all we shouldn’t conceive ‘mental health problem’  constituting complete derangement of mental state and being out of reality only as demonstrated by the derogratory terms such  as ‘bahula’  and ‘pagal’. Infact majority of the people have mental health problems not exhibiting the symptoms of psychosis and they appear to be functioning well professionally. Due to the fear of stigma many people keep mum about their conditions in the workplace which will ultimately worsen their conditions

Protecting rights

Nepal is a signatory of The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Article 27 of The UN CRPD provides a legally-binding global framework for promoting the rights of people with disabilities (including psychosocial disabilities). Similarly The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 enshrines the fundamental rights of all Nepali citizens regardless of disabilities. But still there are provisions in the law which debar the people with mental health problems from taking official responsibilities assuming the mental and cognitive incapacitation. The legal provision is vague in stating the mental state that constitutes mental and cognitive incapacitation but has sweeping generalization that puts all the mental health conditions in one basket. The government should amend the flawed laws which cast out the persons with psycho-social disability from workplace.

Majority of workplaces in Nepal do not have an insurance scheme for the health of their workers let alone for mental health. The attitude of co-workers and manager are not favourable to the employees who are facing mental health difficulties. There’s a need for understanding of such problems which can happen to anybody at anytime and not make it as a taboo. An environment of safety and security should be created for the employees who are facing mental health problems.

Nepal has recently introduced The Sexual Harassment at Workplace Prevention Act, 2015 which aims at preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, protecting the victims and punishing the culprit with the fine upto Rs. 50000 and six month imprisonment. Such laws should be introduced to prevent other forms of workplace harassment such as bullying. The organization should have non-discriminatory policies for their employees and have punitive provisions for the harassment and bullying and protection for vulnerable employee.

What needs to be done?

An organization can start with hiring a industrial psychologist or counsellor who can provide regular counselling services for the employee. Any employees can be benefitted by such facilities regardless of their mental condition and can be effective shield against any mental health problems. The management should be sensitive enough to understand the problem and accordingly design the job flexibly for employee with mental health problems and have supportive and confidential communication.

In terms of working condition we might be surprised to know that workers value more intrinsic motivations such as good relationship with supervisor, praise, respect, recognition than extrinsic motivation such as pay rise, bonus, good physical setting etc. This has been proven by famous study known as ‘Hawthorne Studies’ which compared the workers in different working conditions and  found productivity to be increased when the supervisor – worker relationship was good  than when physical conditions such as lighting, pay , breaks were increased. Therefore, good management and worker relation can improve the productivity and at the same time make positive working condition.

Employees should be aware of their own self care for one’s own physical and mental health. Regular physical exercise, plentiful rest, sleep and hydration are simple yet very effective for good mental health. Employees self care can be complimented by the organization by making good and flexible job designs and motivating the staff. One simple exercise of periodic group supervision in which members perform some rituals such as mindfulness exercises, share their highs and ups in work and personal life can have therapeutic effect.

While we are busy in making a living let’s take break sometimes to live a life!

(The article was published on October 10, 2017 in Republica. Here is the link of the article in the paper – mentalhealth in workplace )

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *