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Management Report

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Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace

Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace

LEE Seung-Chul

Aug. 2, 2012


Welcome to our video program. I'm Seung-Chul Lee from the Economic Policy Department.

“Healing” is a trendy concept in Korea. There are many TV shows talking about healing, and books featuring the theme are bestsellers. This popularity mirrors the widespread feelings of exhaustion among Korean people in their body and mind. According to a survey, mental health among core company employees, those aged 45-54, has sharply declined.

Korea has the world’s highest suicide rate, with 31 out of 100,000 people taking their own lives.

As such, more and more people want to heal their minds. The problem is that only a small number of people actually go to see a doctor for their mental problems. A survey found that only 15.3% of those with mental health problems received medical treatment. Many more are not even aware of their own problems, or want to conceal them due to stigma.

The social and economic costs of mental illness are estimated at 23.5 trillion won in 2010 alone. Work losses caused by absenteeism, reduced work efficiency and reported difficulties in conducting one’s job duties take up the biggest share of 20.6 trillion won.

The enormous costs which employees with mental health problems can cause to companies call for immediate solutions to enhance employees’ mental health.

Companies which already understand that employees’ mental health is critically important to their business implement a four-step mental health management system.

The first step is prevention and management. At this stage, companies offer services for their employees to effectively deal with family affairs so that employees can better focus on their jobs.

The point of the services is to provide practical solutions and knowhow for day-to-day issues that employees may face in their relationship with spouses, children and parents.

For example, Prudential has provided its employees with elderly care support since 1990.

About 100,000 employees have received professional counseling on how to support their parents for six years since then. Counseling covered issues such as dementia and falls.

Employees dispatched abroad often report loneliness and stress from dealing with different cultures. To tackle this problem, Chiyoda in Japan have deployed five general doctors and four counselors to their overseas branches since 2006. They deliver mental health classes, diagnose employees on their stress level and conduct individual counseling.

Step two is early response to mental health problems. For an effective response, there should be someone who can identify signs of stress in employees early on. It is middle managers who do the job in best-practice companies.

Quad/Graphics, a US printing company, has very specific to-do and not-to-do lists for their middle managers. The company also conducts annual stress tests for their employees and provides necessary treatment.

The next stage is treatment. To provide employees with customized support, leading companies utilize professional services from diverse fields, including psychiatrists. Coffee by Design in the US instructs its employees on how to serve customers in a way that does not threaten their mental health. Also, it implements a variety of mental health promotion programs, including a flexible work schedule for employees returning to work after undergoing treatment.

The last stage is follow-up care, which includes post-treatment monitoring of employees returning to work.

Abbott Laboratories advises employees identified to have mental problems to take sick leaves or transfer to a hospital. In addition, the company consults with employees who have completed treatment, and has them work part-time for the first month after treatment, before returning to work full time.

In Korea, companies need to reinforce their mental health promotion systems with intensive preventive measures and emergency programs. Boosting employees’ satisfaction levels at work is most important. For this, firms must increase individual workers’ responsibility and authority on their jobs and ensure that jobs are related with their personal development. At the same time, family relation programs must be established so that employees can get emotional support from their families.

Intensive care is necessary for vulnerable groups, including working women and those living apart from families. Company daycare facilities and child-care leaves for male workers will help. In particular, in-house service teams providing services from health management to emergency care for male workers living apart from families will relieve their loneliness and psychological burden.

Above all, companies must establish a new corporate culture that acknowledges that anyone can fall prey to mental illness that most mental illness is treatable and that prevention-oriented treatment programs are available. Companies must also recognize that promotion of employees’ mental health will upgrade their well-being and productivity as well as the image of the company.

The four guidelines will serve as a good guide for corporate managers dealing with employees’ mental health.

Thank you for watching. I'm Seung-Chul Lee.

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