Mental Health through the Pandemic and Beyond: A Manufacturing View
07 Oct 2021
While the high levels of mental health issues within the manufacturing industry are indeed overwhelming, there is still hope.
This outbreak of Covid-19 has caused major disruptions across the entire business world, from small businesses to global organizations. Some companies have successfully weathered the storm, while others are struggling to stay afloat more than 18 months after the arrival of Covid-19.
Just stop and take a moment right now and look around you at everything that surrounds you, from your computer to your phone, your fridge, and the food in it or your air conditioner. Have you ever stopped to wonder: Where does it come from? Who manufactured it, and how does it get into your country? Also, can you still get this item, or have you had to substitute for a lesser quality item because you can't get it due to it being manufactured overseas?
We are spoilt, aren't we? These are all the things we took for granted that were readily available at probably a lower price in some cases, which now, even if you do order it in advance, you could be waiting months before it hits your shores.
Manufacturing companies around the world were not prepared for such a pandemic; the uncertainty of it all and then the roller coaster ride we've all had to endure has been a whirlwind. Early in the pandemic, supermarkets were left bare, and people were fighting to get simple supplies to provide for their families.
During the pandemic, manufacturing employees didn't have the option of working remotely. As a result, they may experience higher levels of stress and the need to stay home for a "mental health day." Likewise, the stigma associated with mental illness in some manufacturing environments can make employees less likely to get help for their mental health issues. Instead, these companies would be more likely to experience absenteeism and "presenteeism" (they are physically at work but not as focused on their work as they should be).
With manufacturing being one of the hardest-hit industries of the Covid-19 pandemic, workplace mental health needs to be the priority. While the high levels of mental health issues within the manufacturing industry are indeed overwhelming, there is still hope.
There are many initiatives that companies can launch to reach out to, engage with, and support their employees – some of which can be implemented immediately. If ever there was a time to really care about your people, the time is now!
Creating mentally healthy workplaces in manufacturing will support our business leaders to take the first steps to create a mentally healthy workplace.
There are unhealthy workplaces described as having high levels of absenteeism, turnover, incivility, psychological injury, and wastage, as well as low levels of productivity, worker satisfaction, and engagement.
There are psychologically safe and healthy workplaces with higher levels of respect, engagement, healthy communication, and productivity. These are places where employees are engaged with their work and feel both physical and psychosocial safety. When all these conditions are met, there are flourishing workplaces with high levels of sustainable productivity, performance, engagement, and discretionary effort.
Some of the best ways to support employee mental health are through creating policies to support mental wellbeing and work-life balance, monitoring and properly addressing excessive absences, and offering support, education, and communication to your employees.
Through this crisis in the manufacturing industry, we have learned to become great communicators. We've become resilient and safety-conscious through the education and empowerment of our employees.
We now know how to protect ourselves and our people against future disruptions by introducing new workplace safety initiatives such as temperature checking and recording, touchless check-in, and contact tracing will become highly relied upon to ensure the safety of manufacturing facilities and their people.
We have also learned that in today's world, flexibility and workplace awareness on mental health and support is also key. We know that lockdowns can occur quickly and can be for prolonged periods, so we have learned to adapt to keep our team engaged and productive throughout such disruptions. We have created a workplace where our employees feel like the company genuinely cares about them as an individual.
Beyond the pandemic, we will have created a sustainable and safer workplace both physically and mentally, not just for our employees but also our business leaders who have had to guide us to navigate through these uncharted waters.
As we are entering this new way of thinking for some, taking a more holistic approach to employee wellbeing, engagement and retention are what will essentially keep our manufacturing business going.
If anything good has come out of this pandemic, it's that the world has had to change, change for the better, change for a brighter, more resilient future. With that change, the next generation will only grow to complement it.
Think about it, 20 years ago, it was unheard of for children to have a mobile phone, and here we are 20 years later, it's more unusual now if they don't have one.
I, for one, am excited to see what the future holds with the next generation hitting the manufacturing workforce. They are growing into a world that not only recognizes mental health but they promote good mental health and wellbeing as part of their work-life balance. This is the world I want my children to grow up in, and this is the world my grandchildren will inherit.
The author, Sonya Leyds, is Head of HR at Elgi Equipments Limited (OSEA Region).