Protect and manage mental health at workplace in time of COVID-19

Work arrangements and conditions have changed considerably due to the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing new psychosocial challenges for the health and well-being of workers. The ILO’s Technical Officer, Grace Monica Halim, shared her insights on actions to address this problem.

Analysis | Jakarta, Indonesia | 15 September 2021
Mental health has become the concern of the ILO long before the COVID-19 was declared as a global pandemic in March last year. Grace Monica Halim, Technical Officer of the ILO Geneva, highlighted that mental health problems at work cost the global economy up to US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. In Switzerland, for example, the cost of work-related stress during the pandemic increased by 600 million Swiss Francs each month from 7.6 billion pre-pandemic.

Teleworking has brought new stresses, as workers find themselves isolated or juggling family and professional responsibilities
She explained that work-related stress includes a variety of conditions, such as overwork, job insecurity and blurred work-life balance. Thus, she emphasized the importance of managing work stress to help reduce the risk of work injury that may result in lost days on the job and negative effects on productivity.

The employers have a key role to ensure workers’ welfare by addressing mental health issues through occupational safety and health (OSH) management."

Grace Monica Halim, Technical Officer of the ILO Geneva
“The employers have a key role to ensure workers’ welfare by addressing mental health issues through occupational safety and health (OSH) management,” she stated before more than 2,200 viewers of the interactive webinar, “Pandemic Taking Toll on Mental Health of Workers: How ‘Smart Working’ Works?” on 9 September.

The webinar was jointly organized by ILO and Tempo, a leading media in Indonesia. The webinar also marked the first webinar series of the ILO’s Enhancing COVID-19 Prevention at and through Workplaces Project. Funded by Government of Japan, it aims to share best practices and key inputs to the recovery of COVID-19 that can leave economies, enterprises and workers on a stronger footing during and after the pandemic.

The increasing problem of mental health was also showed by Tempo’s quick survey conducted for the webinar. The survey revealed that 72.4 percent from 2,700 readers admitted that COVID-19 has affected their mental health with financial insecurity and lack of work-life balance as the main causes.

Grace M. Halim
Responding to the survey, Grace underscored the crucial role of workplaces as a venue to break stigma against mental health. Negative stigma against mental health has discouraged workers reluctant to be opened with their real mental conditions. “Health issues are not only physical, but also mental. Stress can cause other effects, including work accidents, decreased work quality," she stated.

The role of managers are therefore, according to Grace, more crucial to support their team to understand and speak up their mental health. “The pandemic has pushed us to acknowledge mental health issues as part of the workplace issues. When we think of OSH, mental health should also be at the forefront of our minds,” she added.

Three ILO Conventions Nos. 155, 161 and 187 cover mental health issues under the principles of OSH policies. Thus, what could be done at the workplace to help address and promote workers’ well-being? According to Grace, the answer was clear: social dialogue. “As encourage by the ILO, social dialogue has been recognized as a means to improve labour condition through constructive cooperation between employers and workers.”

Indonesia can adopt global best practices in time of crisis to better address workers’ mental health. Malaysia, Chile, European countries and USA are few countries that have developed practical guidelines and policies on workers’ mental health and wellbeing."

Through social dialogues, both employers and workers can play active roles in creating a working environment that is psychologically safe. Apart from it, employers can create a supportive work culture through risk assessments and generate strategy with cross-functional approach by integrating human resources, risk managements and OSH management—a strategy that will intertwine workplace good practices as well as the elimination and prevention of risks.

“Indonesia can adopt global best practices in time of crisis to better address workers’ mental health. Malaysia, Chile, European countries and USA are few countries that have developed practical guidelines and policies on workers’ mental health and wellbeing. A website, as a resource hub to navigate mental health information and guide people to necessary support needed, is also one of the ways,” told Grace.

ILO has developed Stress Prevention at Work Checkpoints to improve workplace conditions and preventing stress at work that is also available online and in mobile application. This is essential for national authorities, companies, trade unions, OSH practitioners and other relevant parties to manage workplace stress prevention. It is in line with the ILO’s effort to build a strong and resilient OSH management, promote decent work, and social dialogue.

The livestreaming of the interactive webinar can be viewed on ILO TV Indonesia.