Local experts to address mental health and Jamaica's low productivity

Staff reporter

Sunday, January 13, 2019

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The Human Resource Management Association of Jamaica (HRMAJ), in collaboration with Essential Medical Services (EMS), will be tackling the issue of mental well-being in the workplace in an upcoming seminar, given statistics which show that Jamaica has the lowest productivity rates in the Americas.

Secretariat manager of HRMAJ, Susan Brodber, listed mismatched skills, the inability of workers to absorb new technology skills, migration of skilled workers, the level of work to be done, and lateness and transportation as some of the main reasons for Jamaica's productivity. Another major reason was a lack of mental well-being.

Local expert and clinical psychologist Dr Parnel Bell, who is scheduled to speak at the Optimal Productivity, Winning Minds seminar on January 30, told the Jamaica Observer that the aim of the conference is to recognise mental wellness as a 21st century imperative for organisations.

“Mentally healthy people will perform at their optimum and will increase productivity. The global statistic actually shows that overall, one in four persons at some time in their life, will experience mental illness.

“Statistics from the Ministry of Health actually show that as a result of the absence of employees from the workplace because of mental health issues, the country lost over $859 million in 2013-2014,” Dr Bell said.

Meanwhile, the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle survey (2016-2017), released by the Ministry of Health last year, showed a national estimate of 14.3 per cent in the prevalence of depression. For women, this prevalence was 18.5 per cent, and 9.9 per cent among men.

Also a member of the Jamaica Psychological Society, Dr Bell called on organisations to implement mental wellness systems to ameliorate work related stress.

“We want to bring awareness to the population that mental wellness should be the concern of employers because it does affect productivity. and persons with mental illness most time will show up at work but they will be in a state of what we call presenteeism, meaning that they are there but they are not really producing anything as a result of being in a psychological state that is creating mental illness.

“So we are saying put a mental wellness system in place that will prevent some of the workplace stressors that could be creating of exacerbating mental illness for employees; stress is one — because of work -related stress, employees' productivity is affected”, Bell said.

Workplace wellness consultant, and medical doctor at Essential Medical Services, Dr Ijah Thompson addressed the stigma often attached to mental health, stressing the need for capacity building in organisations that will encourage mental well-being.

“The conference will spot light mental wellness in the workplace, not just simply mental health, which is often perceived as something of ill-health such as anxiety, depression, poor coping skills.

“The work space is where we go to develop our life, to get an income, and build our careers and so forth. But the work space, as beneficial as it is, is also very stressful because [this is] where we have deadlines that are perpetually there, especially those that are unrealistically planned; where we have high workload with poor work resources, then what we do is develop a high level of stress. So we find things like burnout, anxiety and depression, deviance come up in the work space.

“What we are looking at is both capacity building and the ability to have a flourishing, thriving life — a life that is balanced, that is low in stress, and filled with joy and positivity. So a mentally well workplace is one that is joyful, one where the employees are growing and thriving, flourishing; and the organisation by extension is a well and thriving organisation, where productivity and performance is at its highest possible state”, said Dr Thompson.

He also called on employers to be proactive in ensuring their employees' well-being, which he said is crucial for productivity.

“Being able to be cognisant of the demands that work places on the individual is very important for the employer, and to have it as a part of your culture and be proactively aware is one of the best ways to protect an organisation against the consequences of poor mental well-being.

“The event is dubbed optimising productivity, or optimal productivity, because we want them to see that mental health is not just about the fuzzy feelings, it is also about the bottom line. We want them to see that by implementing things that are good for the mental health of their workforce, it is also good for business equally,” Thompson said.

Also a medical doctor, Thompson presented informal data from his personal practice which revealed that six out of 10 persons report that their positivity at work is affected by their mental state.

“Informally, I see six out of 10 persons having great difficulty with sleep health, and at least six out of 10 report that their level of positivity is affected by their feelings about the impact of their health in the work- place,” Dr Thompson said.

The seminar, Dr Thompson said, will look at how both the individual and the organisation can optimise productivity in the workplace.

“An organisation is a collection of people and, as we deal with how the collective manage at the conference, we will also deal with how the individual manages. There will be a lot of mental well-being, activities to help persons experientially go through that journey of learning how to improve and take care of their own state of mental wellbeing. because we do also know that where the leadership is not mentally well, that is they are easily stressed and fatigued, then the organisation itself will reflect a similar pattern. So we know it is very important to work on the leaders if we are going to help them work on their organisation as a collective.”

The seminar will target organisation leaders, human resource managers, and their strategic teams.

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