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Picture this: an employee comes into work with a broken leg or a high fever. Our gut response would be to tell them to go home, rest up and not come back until they feel better. In other words, we treat their illness with respect, care and legitimacy. So, why is the same level of care still not shown for mental health in the workplace? 

The average person will spend approximately 90,000 hours at work – that’s 1/3 of our lives. And with home and hybrid working pushing work into our private sphere, it’s more important than ever that companies provide an environment that works for all employees and enables them to perform at their best in a manner that suits them best. 

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Pushing back against mental health shame

Mental health is one of the most pressing issues businesses have to deal with today. Burnout, depression, and anxiety, among many other afflictions, can impact companies through absenteeism, employee turnover, and a lack of engagement and productivity. Employers have taken note by responding with arrangements such as allowing employees to take a ‘mental health day’ or adopt a more flexible work schedule.

Still, for many employees there’s a crucial barrier in place that stops them from taking advantage of such concessions: stigma. Some might fear they will communicate that they are incapable of doing the job. Others experience guilt, worried they will hinder productivity and create inconvenience for colleagues by taking time off or rearranging work hours. The stigma that surrounds mental health comes in different forms, but the result is the same: it stops employees who are at their most vulnerable from asking for and accepting help. 

For companies to break that stigma, it’s crucial to not present mental health support as an  ‘employee perk’, but as an organizational priority that signals loud and clear that asking for support should be standard practice.

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Making mental health a strategic priority

According to the World Federation of Mental Health, one in five people will experience a mental health condition. So, it only makes sense for companies to make mental health and wellbeing a key point on their strategic agenda.

At Solvay, improving the wellbeing of our employees sits at the heart of our Better Life commitment and our overall sustainability strategy. To provide a work environment where mental health and wellbeing can thrive, we are committed to minimizing the bad and promoting the good. To put words into action, we’ve introduced a range of company initiatives, including: 

  • An Employee Assistance Program for both Solvay employees and family members that offers psychological support, wellbeing advice, life coaching and mindfulness
  • Internal medical networks led by healthcare professionals who promote both physical and mental wellbeing
  • Extended Parental leave (16 weeks) for all co-parents
  • The Internal Wellbeing at Work (WB@W) program that provides a variety of supportive resources and tools for wellbeing, from toolkits to workshops for employees and leaders, available in multiple languages around a range of well-being topics
  • A Better life at work dashboard to help track well-being indicators and enable leaders to take appropriate actions
  • A Speak Up program and assistance that enables colleagues to safely report uncomfortable or unethical behaviour
  • A dedicated DEI program, One Dignity, which promotes inclusive leadership and an inclusive work environment

Making wellbeing official company business can help destigmatize the subject by sending the message that mental health is a shared priority and that there’s no shame in asking for support if and when you need it.

Promoting peer support to create a culture of trust and respect

Policy is key, but so is employee buy-in. On average, 20% of employees who do not make use of services provided by their employer do so out of fear it will negatively impact their careers. Peer support to help break mental health taboos is equally important as providing organizational resources. 

Establishing a supportive work culture means enabling an open dialogue that involves more than talking to employees. It means active listening, being empathic, and supporting the creation of a  supportive grassroots network that offers mutual support and understanding. At Solvay, our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have been pivotal in creating safe spaces for employees and provide peer support and encouragement to share experiences without judgement. 

Take our Latin-America-based ERG, Eureka, for example. Adhering to a credo that people, not frameworks, drive business, Eureka has become a fully-fledged platform that provides employees with the tools and knowledge to nurture their wellbeing at work. Weekly meetings and workshops led by mental health professionals have helped employees to better understand issues they are struggling with and find the support needed. Several of our Latin American colleagues have stated they feel much more comfortable being themselves at work as a direct result of Eureka’s efforts. And that’s just one example of what our ERGs have accomplished.

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