Mental well-being of employees needs to be addressed by management – MEA director general

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 August, 2022 at 2:09 pm by Andre Camilleri

Top management in businesses need to address any issues that are related to the mental well-being of their employees, Director General of the Malta Employers’ Association (MEA) Joseph Farrugia has said.

The Malta Independent sat down with Farrugia to discuss the most recent 2022 Misco survey on Employee Well-being at the Workplace, which displayed a significant increase in respondents stating that they have mental health issues, and that a significant number of employees are not unwinding after work.

Farrugia pointed out that one would need to look at the different sectoral differences to understand the types of stress an individual is under. However, overall he believes that the shortage of workers in many industries is a major factor causing stress in the workplace.

“When you have such a shortage, the tendency is that the work will have to be carried out by fewer employees possibly working longer hours. Even if they are paid overtime, that could be stressful in itself. Also, there is a higher turnover of staff and, as we know today, 1/4 of the labour force is not Maltese. On average they spend less than two years working in Malta.”

As a result, he said that 1/4 of the labour force is prone to frequent movement and high turnover, which also creates stress in many places of work. Constantly meeting new faces at the workplace could cause a few issues rather than having an established team.

He added that another reason has to do with inflation. “Employees are asking for higher wages to make up for inflation. We heard that COLA might be in the region of €8 to €10,” he said.

“It’s not only employees who suffer from stress, but business owners also. I am certain that the results that came out […] are similar to those that a similar survey would find if it were to be conducted amongst the owners of small businesses,” he stated.

When asked about ways to improve mental well-being in the workplace, he said that “one could advocate for more open-style management, which allows for better communication between different management,” he said.

“If companies function properly and efficiently, even top management needs to be informed of any issues that are related to the mental well-being of employees,” he said.

Moreover, he brought up the struggles that come with working remotely.

“Working remotely can be stressful in itself. One cannot assume that the well-being of the employee has improved because that employee is working remotely. Especially when you have employees juggling between working and looking after children at the same time, as that could be very stressful,” he said.

“This is why there are various demands by employees to either reduce the teleworking element or else to outright come back to the office. They feel it is better to segregate their work duties from their home duties,” he said.

He added that communication might have decreased because more people are working remotely. This reduces communication between the team, which could contribute to more mental health issues, he said.

When asked about the reason behind the high number of people who do not unwind after work, he spoke about Malta’s environment.

“In most cases, the source of the problem is mainly environmental. Environmental with respect to the natural and the infrastructural environment. The level of traffic, the diminishing areas where one can truly relax. Malta’s becoming a very noisy and congested country, even going to the beach could be stressful.”

He added that people with children are constantly “running from one place to another. either private lessons, summer school etc. This means that your leisure time is not leisure time at all.”

Lastly, he was asked whether it is possible to convince employers to invest time and money into their employees’ well-being.

“It might not be time and money, but it might be an attitude towards employees. In the case of micro-businesses, for example, the owner would be in proximity to the employees for most of the day. Therefore, the owners need to keep their eyes open as to what exactly is happening, not just in terms of output, but also in terms of psychological factors as well,” he said.

“This does not mean that the employers have to become psychologists, far from it. But one can know when you have an employee who is suddenly less productive than they were. Rather than looking at the productivity figures, one would try to see the reason behind it, try to council, try to look into the reason. if it is work-related, one should try to tackle it –if there are things at the workplace that need to be addressed for example,” he said.

He concluded by saying that there could be a number of reasons why people are not being productive and, therefore, their superiors should be empathic and try to understand the root cause of the issue.

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