Mental well-being should be prioritized in the workplace

Mental well-being should be prioritized in the workplace

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Governments can never be too relentless in attracting and retaining talent. Now considered as powerhouses of global economies, exceptional talents have been instrumental in injecting innovation, productivity and economic growth across multiple industries, making them a valuable currency. But even as employers scramble to hire talents from all over the world, the post-pandemic reality demands a boost of productivity within existing talent clusters to recover economic losses born since the onset of COVID-19. What we need is a fundamental reimagination of talent productivity — by empowering individuals in their mental well-being capacity at the heart of the workplace.

To capitalize on this notion, we need to evaluate the landscape of mental well-being and how it impacts employee productivity. The US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation publishes the seminal report known as the Global Burden of Disease, which evaluates 286 causes of death, 369 diseases and injuries, and 87 risk factors in 204 countries. Results reveal that about 15 percent of the global population of working-age adults battle with mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety. This has dire consequences and challenges for employees as they seek to perform productively at work over a long period of time. Absenteeism and employee turnover naturally ensue, which have a negative effect on employers and economies.

Last month, the World Health Organization issued a report on the state of employee mental well-being around the world. It revealed that lost productivity from depression and anxiety is costing the global economy a whopping $1 trillion due to an annual loss of 12 billion working days, with Gulf countries losing an approximate $3.5 billion.

At the same time, an individual’s state of mental well-being is also exacerbated by workplace settings and policies, which can directly contribute to poor mental health and dim employees’ creativity, productivity and performance. We can trace the disruption of mental well-being in the workplace to a number of influential factors. To illustrate, unreasonably heavy workloads and short deadlines can lead to elevated stress levels due to the pressures of delivering work expectations. Working long, inflexible and unsocial hours can also exacerbate employees’ health. Moreover, subjecting employees to discrimination, bullying, exclusion or abuse is another contributing factor to reduced mental well-being.

Working in poor physical conditions can also have a negative impact on employees’ health, such as places with poor lighting or limited natural light, excessive noise and poor ergonomics. Furthermore, a lack of clear communication on career progression, unfair financial compensation and underutilized skills can all dim an employee’s productivity. Additionally, an employee’s personal life can be jeopardized by a lack of flexible working arrangements, such as having to work away from home for long periods, strict measures regarding sick leave for oneself or to care for a sick family member, and a lack of flexible or remote working arrangements.

Considering the important role that employment plays in a person’s life and its role in contributing to economic growth and societal welfare, it is critical that policies are enacted to improve mental well-being in the workplace. A number of solutions are at hand that necessitate the active support of multiple stakeholders, including governments, employers and health professionals.

The world of work should embrace a more human-centric approach and be shaped in a way that is harmonious with a person’s personal life and commitments

Sara Al-Mulla

Public policymakers and legislators should design nationally approved policies and legislation focusing on enhancing mental well-being in the workplace. Consulting a consortium of employers from across various industries will help fine-tune these guidelines and facilitate implementation later on. A mass media campaign promoting the principles and rights of employees to a more conducive workplace should be deployed and targeted at enterprises and workers alike. At the same time, enterprises should appoint or upskill human resource managers who have a strong background in deploying mental well-being policies and programs. Equally important is training supervisors in mental health literacy and managing related programs.

Vitally, the world of work should embrace a more human-centric approach and be shaped in a way that is harmonious with a person’s personal life and commitments. Introducing flexible working hours and remote working options can do wonders in enabling employees to balance all their personal and professional duties. Special leaves should be available for the carers of vulnerable dependents and family members, including children and elderly parents. Encouraging employees to take personal time off can also contribute to better health and positive outlooks.

Meanwhile, many fascinating studies have been published on how office design impacts employee well-being. Solutions include having sufficient natural lighting, interspersed plants, artworks, ergonomic furniture and an overall beautifully designed space. Designing recreational communal spaces can also promote social engagement and activity, such as having a library, a games room, a cafeteria or a garden. Offering subsidized subscriptions to local gyms can also be a great move to improve physical and mental well-being.

Moreover, it is critical for human resource departments to introduce well-being programs that equip employees with the skills to effectively deal with stress, financial issues, health challenges, family pressures or practical emotional support, while at the same time infusing them with the motivation to pursue their dreams and ambitions. Such illuminating content should also be made available on company intranets or digital applications for timely and easy access.

Inviting experts in on a regular basis to deliver practical talks on mental well-being can also be instrumental in disseminating practical advice. Putting in place legal frameworks for dealing with unfair treatment, offensive behavior and abuse should be mandatory for safeguarding employees’ rights to a healthy work setting. Another important intervention would be to secure mental health coverage in employee insurance packages.

These solutions create a new way to attract and retain talents who find the workplace a harmonious place that balances their personal and professional ambitions. By prioritizing mental well-being in the workplace, we can unlock talent potential and unleash high productivity, reaping massive economic rewards and elevated societal welfare.

Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at www.amorelicious.com.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Study on Saudi workplace wellness identifies key challenges, suggests solutions

Eighty percent of Saudi Arabia’s workplaces have been found to have no budget to support the mental health of their employees, a new report shows. (AFP)
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Updated 27 January 2023

Study on Saudi workplace wellness identifies key challenges, suggests solutions

  • Report by Tuhoon, a Saudi tech startup founded in 2021, incorporates feedback from 4,000 employees
  • Culture surrounding mental health in the Kingdom appears to be improving despite limited available data

DUBAI: Although mental health issues present a significant challenge to productivity, a benchmark survey in Saudi Arabia has revealed yawning gaps between the services that human resources departments claim to provide and what employees believe is actually on offer, with employees largely unwilling to discuss workplace stress.

For the report, entitled “State of Wellness at the Workplace,” researchers talked to 4,000 employees in the Kingdom’s public and private sectors to assess where challenges arise in the workplace and how to fix them.

The study, which was compiled by Tuhoon, a Saudi tech startup founded in 2021, was carried out in collaboration with the Saudi National Center for Mental Health and the Ministry of Health. 

“The surveys were filled out anonymously, which made workers more receptive to talk about their issues,” Tuhoon CEO Fares Ghandour told Arab News.

“We found females are more willing to talk on a personal level but they opt out of discussing their mental health in the workspace as they do not wish to be perceived as weaklings. We also found workers above the age of 45 are less likely to talk about their mental health than younger generations.”

Tuhoon recently launched a smartphone app designed to help users improve their mental health, manage stress and get better quality of sleep through personalized, culturally relevant audio content.

This content includes meditation and mindfulness exercises, sleep stories, masterclasses, book summaries, deep-focus music, and emergency playlists. It is curated by doctors, clinical psychologists, and certified meditation and self-awareness coaches.

The study indicates that more than 80 percent of Saudi workplaces have no budget to support the mental health of their employees, despite the rising number of workers reporting a decline in their well-being.

The report says that the lack of mental health monitoring has taken a significant toll on the cultural and economic performance of many organizations, and the private sector is perceived as offering less assistance than the public sector.

According to the report, most workplaces are failing to prioritize the mental health of employees. It says that 78 percent of organizations do not measure their workers’ mental health at all, 82 percent have no dedicated resources for mental health services, and 52 percent do not provide health insurance cover for mental health.

It also says that at least four out of five employees experienced at least one mental health problem in the past year. The most common symptoms were anxiety, burnout and stress, as well as depression, relationship challenges and loneliness.

The available data on the issue of wellness in Saudi workplaces, including details of programs and benefits employers offer their workers, remains limited but the culture surrounding mental health does appear to be improving.

However, the Arab world in general lags in this regard which Ghandour says is why he founded Tuhoon.

“I have been investing in tech businesses for nine years,” he told Arab News. “I decided I wanted to build and invest in something I am passionate about, and the mental health cause is dear to me.

“I approached Dr. Naif Almutawa, a clinical psychologist, and Aymane Sennoussi, who became co-founders, and I put my time, energy and effort into making Saudi Arabia and the Arab world a happier and healthier place.”

Mental health problems are among the leading causes of disability worldwide, with depression topping the list. They can affect people regardless of age, culture and socioeconomic status.

The World Health Organization estimates a quarter of the global population will suffer a mental health issue at some point during their lives, and that about 12 billion working days are lost each year to depression and anxiety at an annual cost of $1 trillion in lost productivity.

The Tuhoon survey of Saudi workplaces posed the question: “How would you rate your mental health over the past 12 months on a scale, from 0 to 4?” It found that 24 percent of respondents ranked their mental health as below average.

Almost a quarter of respondents ranked their mental health below average, with 44 percent of Saudi women and 32 percent of Saudi men in the workplace prone to burnout. (Shutterstock)

Among the respondents, women were 62 percent more likely to develop a mental health problem than men, while 44 percent of women in work were found to be prone to burnout and anxiety compared with 32 percent of men.

The research also revealed that 57 percent believed work-related stress affected their mental well-being.

Of the 50 human resources departments that were surveyed, 59 percent said their organizations did not provide mental health insurance coverage, and 82 percent said their companies did not have an employee assistance program. EAPs are designed to help workers resolve professional and personal problems that might be affecting their productivity.

The results of the Saudi surveys compare with the findings of a 2022 workplace report entitled “Mental Health in America” in which one-third of HR professionals said their organization provided no mental health services to employees, 27 percent said their organization was not sure of the proper benefits to provide, and 18 percent said their organization was unsure of what plan or insurance to offer workers.

In the UK, according to a 2022 study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, there is weak leadership on the issue of mental health in the workplace, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. Figures show that only 29 percent of employers are able to spot early signs of mental health problems in their workers. Less than half (42 percent) of employers said that their leaders focus and encourage positive mental health by actions and behavior.

Good mental health is viewed as a key measure of prosperous and successful nations and organizations.

The Kingdom’s public sector scored higher (45 percent) than the private sector (36 percent) in terms of the proportion of employers that offered health insurance coverage that includes mental health services. Ghandour believes this is because the public sector plays such a major role in the Saudi economy, and so employees are looked after relatively well in an effort to maintain high productivity levels.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

According to studies by the Arab Barometer research network, however, more than half of residents in the Arab world find it hard to find decent mental health services. And globally, organizations struggle in the execution of HR policies designed to support mental health.

In 2019, the Saudi National Mental Health Survey found that 34 percent of people had experienced a mental health issue at some point in their lives, with blue collar-workers more open to reporting the challenges they faced than their white-collar counterparts.

It also found the most prevalent mental illnesses in the Kingdom were separation anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, major depressive disorder, social phobia, and obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Better-educated Saudis were more prone to such conditions.

Some 80 percent of respondents afflicted by a serious mental illness said they had not sought any treatment, while 8.9 percent said they had gone to a religious adviser or non-medical healer for help.

Experts say that to promote a healthier work culture, employers need to prioritize well-being, work to reduce the stigma that still surrounds mental illness, and provide mental health coverage for employees.

Tuhoon believes workplaces need to start viewing mental health as a collective issue rather than an individual problem. It recommends nine cost-effective steps to improve workplace mental health and, as a result, boost productivity.

These steps include workshops to raise awareness of the issue, and webinars on topics such as stress management, dealing with burnout, and increasing connectivity between workers. It also suggests offering additional days off to increase morale, training managers to spot mental health problems in workers, and creating a more welcoming and trusting work environment.

I decided I wanted to build and invest in something I am passionate about, and the mental health cause is dear to me,” said Fares Ghandour, CEO of Tuhoon. (Supplied)

Furthermore, Tuhoon urges employers to promote workplace behaviors that reduce burnout by encouraging workers to take time off if needed, offering a more flexible work environment, promoting a healthy balance between work and personal life, and creating a “check in” culture.

Additional recommendations include encouraging employers to use mental health assessments as a tool to measure stress and challenges, and to connect workers with helpful resources if needed.

Tuhoon says mental health “first aid” courses could also provide staff with the skills they need to detect the early signs of stressors and provide solutions and rapid responses to help distressed workers.

This could further reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace. Appointing “mental health ambassadors” would also contribute to more open and supportive conversations in the workplace.

Regarding the well-being of women in particular, Tuhoon urges employers to adjust workplace policies and encourage female employees to report harassment and sexual assault through the provision of a proper platform for doing so. Salaries and promotions must also be fairly determined regardless of gender.

Finally, employers and employees are encouraged to show gratitude in the workplace and introduce mechanisms through which workers feel able to talk about things or people they are grateful for inside and outside of work.

Tuhoon believes this could lead to enhanced job satisfaction, fewer sick days, the promotion of a positive and more trusting work environment, and increased productivity.

Saudi Arabia, Syria in talks to resume consular services — Saudi foreign ministry

Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Arabia, Syria in talks to resume consular services — Saudi foreign ministry

  • Move comes after Saudi Arabia and Iran decided earlier this month to resume diplomatic relations
  • Last month Riyadh said consensus was growing among Arab nations that Syrian isolation was “not workable”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Syria are in talks to resume consular services between the two countries, Al-Ekhbariya TV said on Thursday.

“Within the framework of the Kingdom’s keenness to facilitate the provision of necessary consular services between the two nations, discussions are underway with officials in Syria to resume consular services,” the TV channel reported, citing a Saudi foreign ministry official.

The report added that the statement from the foreign ministry’s source was in response to international media reports from earlier on Thursday.

The move comes after Saudi Arabia and Iran decided earlier this month to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies in both countries, following a China-brokered deal.

In a phone call on Wednesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan spoke with his Iranian counterpart, Hussein Amir Abdollahian, about holding a bilateral meeting in the near future.

On February 19, Prince Faisal said consensus among Arab countries was growing that Syrian isolation was “not workable”, adding that dialogue with Damascus was needed “at some point” at least with regards to the “humanitarian angle.”

He also said on March 8 engagement with Syria might eventually lead to its return to the Arab League, but that at the time, it was “too early to discuss.”

Saudi Civil Defense warns of thunderstorms, dust storms

Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Civil Defense warns of thunderstorms, dust storms

JEDDAH: The General Directorate of Saudi Civil Defense has urged residents to take precautionary measures against thunderstorms and dust storms that are likely to affect some regions between Friday and Monday. 

The organization, acting on information from the National Center of Meteorology, said the Makkah region will be affected by moderate to heavy rains that may lead to torrential flows. The areas of Taif, Maysan, Adham, Al-Khurmah, Al-Ardiyat, Turbah, Rania, Al-Muwayh, Qia, Khulais, Al-Kamil, Al-Jumum, Bahra, Al-Lith, and Al-Qunfudhah are expected to be hit.

The Riyadh region is also expected to suffer, including the capital, Al-Kharj, Wadi Al-Dawasir, As-Sulayyil, Afif, Al-Duwadmi, Shaqra, Al-Zulfi, Al-Majma’ah, Al-Quwa’iyah, Al-Ghat, Hotat Bani Tamim, Al-Aflaj, Thadiq, Ramah, Al-Muzahimiyah, Al-Diriyah, Dhurma, Huraymila and Al-Dalam.

Authorities stressed the need to stay away from areas where torrents gather, and not to swim in dangerous places. 

Residents have been advised to adhere to instructions announced through the media. 

The regions of Asir, Al-Baha, Jazan, Najran, Madinah, Hail, Tabuk, Al-Jawf, the northern borders, Al-Qasim and the eastern borders are also expected to be affected.

Moderate rains and winds resulting in dust storms are expected in the Makkah region, including Jeddah and Rabigh.

The Civil Defense has stressed the need to stay away from areas where torrents gather, and not to swim in dangerous places.

Residents have been advised to adhere to instructions announced through the media. 


Saudi Arabia marks World Meteorological Day

Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Arabia marks World Meteorological Day

JEDDAH: World Meteorological Day, observed on March 23 every year, is celebrated this year under the theme “The Future of Weather, Climate and Water Across Generations.”

It aims to join efforts at all national, regional and international levels to address the causes of extreme weather events and climate change, as well as the increasing scarcity of water resources.

The occasion also falls on the anniversary of the World Meteorological Organization’s establishment in 1950. The organization acts as an international umbrella that deals with weather and climate predictions, and serves as an effective channel for international cooperation in this vital area of development, urbanization and stability of humans and living organisms on the planet.

Through this year’s theme, the organization aims to pay tribute to the 24-hour national services of the meteorological and hydrological facilities, which collect and consolidate weather prediction data. 

Saudi Arabia is one of the founding states of the organization and undertook significant work in the field of meteorology at the local, regional and international levels. Its work in this regard is reflected in its functions on meteorology and climate, as well as through eight regional and international centers.

These centers are the Jeddah Regional Communication Center, the Regional Center for Drought Monitoring and Early Warning, the Jeddah Regional Climate Center, the Jeddah Global Information System Center, the Operational Information Center for Air Navigation Services, the Jeddah Historical Information Rescue Center, the Atmospheric and Hydrological Research Center, and the Agricultural Meteorology Research Center. 

Jeddah authorities destroy 40 tons of ‘unsafe’ meals

Updated 23 March 2023

Jeddah authorities destroy 40 tons of ‘unsafe’ meals

JEDDAH: Local health authorities destroyed 40 tons of Ramadan meals in Umm Al-Salam in a building that was used to process and store food.

It came as part of the municipality’s efforts to combat health violations and improve the urban landscape, as well as monitor standards in commercial and health institutions, contributing to the safety and security of citizens and visitors.

The municipality said that inspection teams examined a building in Al-Mahameed neighborhood that was used as a warehouse to prepare and store pastries and desserts.

Inspectors found that food was processed near restrooms, and discovered insects and expired items, in addition to improper food storage practices and poor levels of hygiene. The spoiled food items were confiscated and destroyed, and legal procedures were immediately taken to close the site.

The municipality added that it carries out inspection tours to follow up on activities related to public health. 

It commended the cooperation of citizens and residents in improving services by reporting violations through the Baladi application, or the unified center, through the phone number 940. 


Muslim World League chief, Malaysian PM meet in Makkah

Updated 24 March 2023

Muslim World League chief, Malaysian PM meet in Makkah

MAKKAH: Muslim World League Secretary-General Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa met with Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in Makkah on Thursday.

They  discussed the organization’s initiatives of building bridges between communities based on shared values, and joint cooperation to tackle extremism.

Saudi Arabia and Malaysia enjoy strong brotherly ties.

Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Ibrahim’s trip to the Kingdom “reflects the special bond and long-standing relationship with the Kingdom and will provide an excellent opportunity for both sides to elevate bilateral relations and cooperation.”