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On World Mental Health Day, mental health and well-being need to be on the board agenda

  • UAE
  • Employment law


Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority’ is the theme of this year’s World Mental Health day on 10 October. In 2022, the cost of lost productivity due to untreated mental illness in the Gulf nations was estimated to be $3.5billion each year (PwC). But the issue is not just confined to the Gulf nations. According to the World Health Organisation, one in eight people worldwide are living with a mental health issue and 12 billion productive days are lost due to depression and anxiety, costing the global economy $1trillion in lost productivity.

Is mental health a business and workplace issue? We believe that it is.

Perhaps one silver lining of the covid-19 pandemic has been the shift toward a greater focus on mental health not only from a personal perspective, but also from a business and economic perspective.

Although the stigma surrounding mental illness in the MENA region remains prevalent the pandemic has enabled the conversation surrounding mental health in the region to start to become more common place notwithstanding the fact attitudes and sensitivities to the issue do continue to vary by country.

Employers across the world are facing challenging times in relation to attracting and retaining employees in the post-covid era. Against this backdrop from a business performance perspective, mental health and well-being does need to be on the board agenda. Businesses which take steps to manage and support mental health and well-being in the workplace will see positive returns in the form of reduced staff turnover, reduction in accidents and absence, increased morale, engagement and employer reputation.

Of course it is important to understand cultural nuances and perceptions of mental health across the Middle Eastern region when considering the right approach for each organisation.

Businesses in the region can however take learnings from steps taken by employers in other jurisdictions when considering the right approach to adopt in their particular region or regions. By way of examples, considerations regularly considered in the UK and Europe include:

  1. Producing, implementing and communicating a mental health at work plan that promotes good mental health of all employees and outlines the support available for those who may need it.
  2. Developing mental health awareness among employees by making information, tools and support accessible and providing a safe place in which to have conversations about mental health.
  3. Encouraging open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling, in so far as is culturally appropriate.
  4. Providing good working conditions and ensuring employees have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development.
  5. Promoting effective people management to ensure all employees have a regular conversation about their health and well-being with their line manager, supervisor or organisational leader and train and support line managers and supervisors in effective management practices.
  6. Routinely monitoring employee mental health and wellbeing by understanding available data, talking to employees, and understanding risk factors.

Discussing, recognising and acknowledging mental health matters continues to be a difficult subject matter around the globe. Stigma and fear are probably the biggest barriers to normalising conversations around mental health. These concerns reach all geographies and cultures.

How best to address these sensitivities will inevitably differ country by country but ultimately, from a business imperative perspective, if you can provide ways of addressing these issues and mind your people it will in turn help them to look after the business.