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Managing Mental Health Well-being in the Workplace

As a leader, it is crucial for one to set the example and to apply good mental health practices in the workplace. During our one-hour session, Dr. Mohd Hafiz shared statistics that 50% out of 120 participants showed a high level of stress in Malaysia's private organizations. Common psychological issues were highlighted such as burnout out, anxiety and depression for leaders to be able to identify them not only among their employees or colleagues but also their own.

Occupational Stressors

Occupational stressors are psychological stress induced by one’s job. Dr. Hafiz shared 12 occupational stressors that were found in Occupational Stress and Coping Strategies Among Malaysian Employees: Where is the Role of Organizations? by Nordin, R.B., & Ahin, C. B (2016).

Stress Among Managers

As managers, in regards to Mental Health in Workplace, our aims should be to make the situation better for the affected subordinate, improve the environment of the workplace in general and improve ourselves to be better managers. A study conducted by AT Manshor (2003) that involved 400 managers from 34 companies also suffered from a significant level of stress. Among the factors that contributed to the stress were workloads, working conditions and relationships at work.

Dr. Mohd Hafiz continued his talk by introducing “Common Psychological Issues at Workplace”; Psychological Distress, Burn-Out, Severe Anxiety and Severe Depression, their sign and symptoms, and what cause people to get these issues. Some of the common signs of psychological distress are feeling overwhelmed, having difficulty to keep up with daily tasks and experience fatigue.

There are many predictors for psychological distress such as high workload, poor working relationships and job dissatisfaction. These are identifiable with a set of behaviors such as substance abuse as a coping mechanism that will deescalate one's psychological condition.

Burn-out is a syndrome that is a result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: (2) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, (2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and (3) reduced professional efficacy. In order to prevent this, doctors will identify the individual and environmental risk factors that caused burnt out in a person.

While anxiety is a normal reaction and is known as a part of our fright and flight system. However, the problem if the anxiety is persistent and consistent, one can be affected with a form of severe anxiety that led to impairments that will interfere with their job performance, social interactions and relationships. Common anxiety disorders are generalized anxiety, panic, social anxiety and specific phobia. Typical signs and symptoms are fatigue, loss of interest and thoughts of death or suicide and impairments of functions and interactions. For treatments of severe depression, psychiatrists will start the treatment with medicine, psychotherapy or supportive counselling to pull the patients out of premorbid state.

Severe Depression, if go unnoticed or untreated, will cause (1) significant distress, (2) impairment of daily functions, (3) impairment in occupational functions, (4) impairments in social interactions. The signs and symptoms you can observe on an individual vary from one another and it is best to seek advice from medical professionals and practitioners.

One of the tasks that managers can do to achieve these aims are by reducing the stress level in the organization. Managers should aim to (1) make the situation better for the affected subordinate, (2) improve (in general) the environment of the workplace, (3) improve ourselves to be a better manager/superior/leader.

Dr. Mohd Hafiz encourages activities that will improve your mental health such as light exercise, taking supplements such as Omega-3 with doctors' consultation if needed, reduce caffeine intake, spend time with family and friends, avoid procrastination, practice mindfulness and relaxation and deep breathing exercise.

Other than one own initiative to improve their mental state, you may seek relevant professionals such as counsellors, occupational therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. If you need an ear to lend, we have NGOs and multiple groups/organizations in Malaysia such as Befrienders, Miasa and Talian Kasih are one call away if you ever need support in many ways.

Five Core Cognitive Capacities & Character Traits A Leader Must Have

- Dr Prudy Gourguechon, Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst & the Past President of the American Psychoanalytic Association

Leaders play a crucial role in organizations and they set a good example and positive mental health practices in the workplace. Build trust, have discipline and self-control when dealing with challenges, have self-critical thinking, self-awareness and empathy towards others.

Implement the principle of effective communication (WHO)

Communication is key for leaders to be able to understand their subordinates/employees/colleagues and vice versa. Practice the principles of communication to ensure the information shared or given is accessible, actionable, credible, relevant, timely and understandable.

From Dale Carnegie Book "How to win friends and influence people", leaders may practice these when communicating and interacting with their team/colleagues/employees. This will make them valued and important as part of the team. The small thing matters even with simple praise or lending an ear to listen. As humans, we want to belong in a society/community. As leaders, shape a positive environment and make a difference with mental health awareness in your workplace.


Q: When is the best/right time to approach my team/colleagues as a leader/superior figure or casually as a friend?

A: As leaders, it's a part of our job to understand the dynamic of your team or subordinates/colleagues. It is important to adapt and lead by example. There are no issues to being casual and friendly, but when it comes to work and professionalism. There will always be a line that we can distinguish and dictate on how we should act around them. It is crucial for leaders to understand, assess and practice according to situation and people. As Dale Carnegie said, “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.”

Q: If we are attending to our affected team members, should there be a time limit for example in meetings?

A: When it comes to meeting, talking to an affected colleague or subordinate, it's best to find a good time to ensure there is ample time to vent or share because one person is different from another. Make sure they are comfortable and ensure their privacy. It's best to be flexible and most importantly, be empathetic.

Q: How can we help our team members who are open about their anxiety but seems to not welcome our suggestions to speak to a professional.

A: Do not take this personally as it is hard to establish trust. They trust you because they open up regarding their problems/issues. Some people share to vent because they need someone to lend an ear, to listen. Whenever a person tells me their issue, thank them for sharing and validate their emotion. From a short conversation or session, offer empathy and offer them solutions and it is up to them to proceed with professionals or just be happy with you listening to them. Give them time and offer help if they needed any. Be there for them.

Q: Sometimes I can’t help feeling insecure and question my own ability and knowledge as a leader, and begin to have self-doubts in my decisions & thought processes, leading to me feeling anxious.

A: When you feel as such, it doesn’t mean that we are bad leaders. From my experience, some of the tasks I will gladly take because I have experience and the expertise but I did get new projects that I have no experience on, I was scared as I might not being able to meet the expectations. It is normal in human psychology to have uncertainties, which led to anxiety and doubts. Take a step back if you feel underwhelmed but if you are up to the challenge, you can find ways to get on your feet such as experience sharing with your senior. Decide your pathways and learn as you go. The important part is the success at the end of that path. Trust the process!

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