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Promoting Employee Mental Health at a Fair Trade Call Center

May 3, 2018 Claire Ponsaran
Promoting Employee Mental Health at a Fair Trade Call Center

Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it is timely to call out the elephant in the room–or in the office. Often, mental health problems in the workplace are generally disregarded because of ignorance or the associated stigma. And yet, they significantly affect a company’s productivity and operations. Three out of five workers claim to be so affected by stress that they can’t work properly.

Paying attention to employee health, including the mental aspect, is important to a fair trade call center. Results prove that agent happiness and good employee health lead to higher productivity. In a 2010 report, businesses which effectively ran health and productivity programs performed better than those that did not. They had 11% more revenue, 28% higher shareholder returns, lower medical trends, and fewer absences per employee.

What is workplace-related stress?

Stress normally helps the body deal with threats by initiating the fight-or-flight response. It becomes a problem when the body is placed under such continuous anxious state, leading to hypertension, diabetes, and a myriad of disorders.

As implied, workplace-related stress is feeling overwhelmed by job demands that seem beyond one’s available skill and resources. It can manifest physically (muscle pains, migraines) or emotionally (anxiety, panic attacks, and burnout). Chronic stress can plummet to depression, a crippling state where one lacks the energy and interest to do things previously enjoyed.

Why care about mental health?

In a nutshell, a healthier workforce results in a high-performing company.

According to the American Psychological Association (2009), 69% of employees say work is their primary cause of stress and 51% feel less productive because of this. Many show up at work but do not function fully because of disabling mental issues. Consequently, WHO reports that USD $1 trillion is lost to the global economy per year because of this decline in productivity.

In Australia, 20% of suicides are linked to work. One in five develops a mental disorder due to chronic stress. This costs Australian businesses up to $12 billion yearly.

In the UK, 70 million workdays are wasted due to mental health issues. That translates to a loss of £2.4 billion per year.

What are the steps to be done?

1.) Think of employee welfare in making your policies.

The following are risk factors for developing office-related stress:

  1. Low wages
  2. Heavy/unfair workloads
  3. Poor management policies
  4. Lack of communication and support for employees
  5. Inflexible work hours
  6. Unclear tasks or objectives
  7. Lack of a work-life balance
  8. Have little to no say in the management or control over one’s work
  9. Mismatched job to one’s skill or values
  10. Bullying
  11. Job Insecurity

When concern over employee health and safety at work are taken seriously, there is very little room for feeling stressed at work. This is why fair trade outsourcing companies offer model practices in safeguarding not just agent happiness but overall employee wellness.

For instance, when employees feel well-compensated for the type and amount of work they do, they won’t harbor feelings of resentment. If they are bullied at work but can’t leave because of the salary, and they don’t feel as though the management will listen to them, the miserable feeling of being trapped may ultimately break their spirit.

2.) Set realistic expectations.

Assigning too much load on an employee can only work as a cost-cutting mechanism if he is a robot and not a human who needs sleep, sustenance, and leisure time, among many complex needs.

Make sure that meeting the demands of the job is within the employee’s ability. Ask for feedback and provide assistance when called for. When more time is needed, consider giving an extension or a reinforcement — a lot of people often feel they are given more than they can handle.

Encourage employees to step away from their desks and have short breaks. Google is, in fact, one of the first companies to introduce a nap room.

3.) Create an open and caring culture.

According to a Danish study, it’s the boss more than the workload that contributes the greatest to workplace stress. In fact, when the management is being mean and unfair, employees may feel so put down that they may perceive their workload to be more than it is.

A communicative and open hierarchy seems to work better as a management style. Some fair trade outsourcing firms abolished traditional cubicles, believing that an open setting can help facilitate communication. Leaders should be approachable and be willing to listen to a worker’s concern.

Knowing employees better is also a good approach to fighting off stress at work. For one, getting to know them makes them feel valued. Secondly, it will be easier to spot when someone is having a tougher time than usual. For example, an enthusiastic employee who suddenly becomes disinterested and irritable may need some time off from work.

4.) Talk about mental health.

Educate all employees about their mental and emotional health, especially managers who can bridge distressed workers with professional help.

Leaders should be trained and taught how to detect (not diagnose) potential mental wellness issues, what to say or do to a distressed employee, and how to promote a healthy work environment.

Employers have the power to mitigate, and most especially, prevent factors that can lead to workplace stress and depression. Promoting overall employee welfare, especially mental health awareness, will not only foster a healthy workforce but also a healthy business.

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