Psychology at the centre of mental health in the workplace

More than two decades have passed since the World Health Organisation (WHO) began warning about the increase in mental health issues. Modern lifestyles, paired with drastic technological advancements, have caused high-impact changes on human beings.

A report from the WHO indicates that depression today occupies the main position among mental disorders in the world and is twice more frequent in women than men; between 10 and 15 percent of women in industrialised countries and between 20 and 40 percent of women in developing countries. Affective, anxiety, and substance use disorders in adults have an average treatment gap of 77.9% in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The gap for schizophrenia in LAC is 56.9%, for depression it is 73.9% and for alcohol abuse, 85.1%. A high percentage of the workforce suffer from mental health problems, there is no room for doubts: people need help. So, how can a company take care of its employees’ mental health?

How are you?

With this simple question, Elizángela Bonomi, Chief Human Resources Officer at RSM Brazil, begins her working day. Having graduated in psychology, her mission is to seek the well-being of all the organisation's employees and help everybody to become the best version of themselves. She is a faithful believer that personal and professional growth and development are endless, but that sometimes an external eye is needed to help us along the way.

“An organisational psychologist works strongly on welcoming the individual, which in a certain way is reflected on the collective. When an employee has difficulties, whether of personal or professional origin, the psychologist can help to understand the conflict, leading to internal reflections that help find the best path for that situation. This also applies for entire teams, proposing activities, and conversation circles so that behaviours can be mapped and, if necessary, improvements can be proposed”, says Elizángela Bonomi.

“We have a team of psychologists who work not only in the administrative day-to-day, and provides support, development, mentorship, and professional growth, which is in demand by all. Our training in psychology gives us confidence in understanding that employees need to talk about personal issues that impact their activities. We currently have a development plan for leaders and operational staff, which is applied internally. Our training in psychology is fundamental for the confidence of our employees”, Elizángela adds.

“If someone approaches us saying that they are struggling with their mental well-being, then we as HR take action because we want that person to feel comfortable expressing their feelings and to know that they are supported. There are situations that are more serious, and, in those cases, we recommend a specific psychological treatment, or we refer them to the corresponding specialist doctor”, she says.

In RSM Brazil, mental health campaigns are implemented throughout the year to talk about different topics: White January for burn out awareness; Yellow September for suicide awareness, and so on every month of the year. They are strong campaigns in which physical and mental health issues are addressed and the psychologists in the HR team follow that calendar to develop activities around them.

“We provide tools so that employees can detect issues by themselves, in hope that early detection and intervention will lead to more effective coping mechanisms or treatment. We ourselves offer the training and apply surveys, and this provides an invaluable benefit for employees and for the organisation itself. If we see symptoms in someone, we seek to have a therapy session with them. Likewise, if a leader approaches us, saying that a team member who is usually excellent is lately unfocused, unable to deliver reports on time, we contact that person and try to understand what is happening to them”, she explains.

Behaviours can be mapped

The WHO defined mental health as “a state of well-being in which a person fulfils his or her abilities and is able to cope with the normal stresses of life, to work productively and to contribute to his or her community”. But how do we know what the limits of our capabilities are?

“The HR department is a support area for the entire organisation. If these projects have been a success, it is because people have really opened to us and allowed us to map these behaviours within an office. Let's think for example that there is a leader who has a dominant profile called ‘A’. Someone with profile ‘A’ is a person who is imposing, quick thinking, very agile and who seeks objective answers. In this leader’s team, is a person with profile ‘B’, a more controlled type: a more organised, methodical individual who enjoys conversation with others. What can happen between two people like that? Conflict. Because if I put a person who has no patience together with another who likes to go into details, tension between the two is almost guaranteed. However, the truth is that both have talent and can complement each other but we must get them to work in harmony. This translates into mental health and productivity.”

In such a case, Elizángela Bonomi and her team of psychologists recommend following some basic steps:

1. Develop training to understand behavioural models.

2. Assess the needs of each person within that team.

3. Explain to the leader why it is important to have such a person in that team, and how that leader can benefit from what that person´s personality brings to the team. If they understand that, then we´ve made progress.

“A psychologist has been trained to listen and identify problems, allowing employees to recognise that they need to understand the behaviour of others. Our psychologists, through asking the right questions, help employees to draw their own conclusions around the idea that changing certain behaviours could lead to better cohesion, whether leading or being part of a team. That person acknowledges the need to understand and change.” Elizángela Bonomi

Introduce your employees to the best version of themselves

The benefit of having psychologists within the HR team is that they can recognise future leaders in middle management. They can guide them to realise the best version of themselves.

“On one occasion, I had the opportunity to work with a group of future leaders who were very operational, and had a lot of difficulty expressing their opinions.,” says Elizángela. “Our approach was to ask them to reflect on the impact of their leadership on their team members. For example, to one of the leaders we said: “you always have lunch with the same person for logical reasons, you have fun, and you feel comfortable with that person; but, have you ever thought about how the other team members feel that you never ask them to join you for lunch?”. They said they had never thought about that, and it opened them up to a new perspective. Working with our colleagues to challenge their thinking helps to build leadership skills and confidence.

Because of the decision to implement this new approach to HR, made by Managing Office Partner, Leonardo Biar, and the HR leadership of Elizángela Bonomi, RSM Brazil obtained Great Place to Work certification in 2022.

If you would like to learn more about their approach, please contact Leonardo and Elizangela: [email protected], [email protected]

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Virginia Bernadini
Marketing & Communications Manager
RSM Latin America