Challenges that predate the pandemic, such as mental health, have fallen further down on the priorities list for employers, however experts say, now more than before these need to be strengthened
Recent studies assessing the impact of Covid-19 on the economy and specifically the workplace, have found that approximately three million people have lost their jobs. Business Tech says that this translates to an 18% employment decreased between February to April. At the same time, mental health challenges have also been on the rise, with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group saying it receives about 1,300 calls per day. As unsettling as these findings are, Industrial Psychologist Manoko Ratala says the country was already grappling with some challenges before the pandemic. However, she says what’s more alarming about the current findings is that institutions have not made plans on how to alleviate the challenges, as well as “nobody looking at anything else besides the pandemic, which makes it worse”.
Another study found that almost half of South African employees are experiencing Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition which, according to Daily Maverick, is not included in the globally accepted handbook for mental disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMV). Ratala says the stigma around mental health is so prevalent that it’s difficult to determine because “people will not necessarily go and seek treatment”, but would rather disengage from anything productive, primarily because they fear they’ll be considered incapable of working.
So, how can employers stay connected with their employees and what kind of temporary solutions can they implement?
When talking about the 4IR, the four Cs are skills that are often emphasised, namely, communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Ratala says that businesses need to foster collaborations with individuals within the industry and creatively look at what will be required post-Covid-19, as well as critically assess the company’s progress and viability moving forward. Ratala says these assessments are important as far as the employer-employee relationship is concerned, adding that they should find ways of introducing them within the company culture. She refers to the emotional pyramid of needs by Dr Susan David as a foundation for an emotionally focussed approach:
- Gentle acceptance: “We need to accept that we are in an unprecedented time and we are not in control,” she says.
- Compassion: Ratala says employers need to acknowledge and express their fears and allow employees to share theirs as well.
- Routines: Considering the distractions and responsibilities that come with working remotely, she says “if they can afford it, [businesses] need to ensure that their employees are adequately accommodated in the new routine that is being presented by the challenges of the pandemic”.
- Connection: “We’re encouraging employers to stay connected with their employees”, but to also be considerate of their household dynamics and understand they aren’t as instantly available as they were at the office.
- Courage: To have tough conversations [with your employees] about the business’s progress and find possible solutions especially because people “would settle for something, rather than nothing”.
- Reset: “We’re going to have to let go of what didn’t work pre-Covid-19 and new things that will help us create a new way for humanity, a new way of relating, working and productivity.”
Considering how costly mental health services are and how that makes it challenging for the majority of the country to access them, Ratala says the government has good facilities which “in my opinion are under-utilised because generally of the stigma and I would recommend that anybody considers those”.