Smart working to maintain workers’ mental health for business continuity in time of the pandemic

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Declared as a pandemic in March 2020, the COVID-19 has negatively impacted more than 29 million Indonesian workers. In addition to various economic problems causing business closures, reduction of workforce, the pandemic has increased the cases of domestic violence and disrupted workers’ mental health.

A woman worker working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic

A quick survey by found that 72.4 percent of 2,700 readers participated in the survey admitted to having mental health problems. The is in line with the findings of Ipsos and the World Economic Forum which recorded 13,000 workers in 28 countries experienced mental disorders due to precarious employment and changes in routine.

Mental health problems among workers have negatively affected the global economy to US$ 1 trillion in lost productivity. In Switzerland, for example, the cost of work-related stress during the pandemic has increased 600 million Swiss Francs per month from 7.6 billion Swiss Francs before the outbreak.

The trend of increased cases of mental health problems during the pandemic was discussed in the virtual discussion Ngobrol@Tempo entitled “Pandemic Taking Toll on Workers’ Mental Health: How ‘Smart Working’ Works” on Thursday, 9 September. The Director of Mental Health and Drugs at the Ministry of Health, Celestinus Eigya Munthe, confirmed the increasing cases of 6.8% anxiety and 8.5% depression.

“The Ministry of Health noted that in 2020, 18,000 people experienced mental disorders, 23,000 suffered from depression and 1,163 attempted suicides. Therefore, the government has provided telemedicine services through an application named Sehat Jiwa, where workers can do free consultation and counselling to cope with workplace stress,” he said.

The mental health problems experienced by workers, if not addressed immediately, may lead to lower business productivity. This would pose a potential threat to the government’s attempts to recover the conditions of economy and health.

For this reason, Nuri Purwito Adi, University of Indonesia’s Head of Specialist on Occupational Medicine Study Programme, emphasized the importance of recognizing mental disorders mainly caused by psychological and emotional factors. The observed signs range from psychosomatic symptoms and nausea to significant behaviour changes and use of drugs.

He suggested that workers who desire to maintain a good work-life balance need to have good communications with their family and company. “We need to know when we act as worker and as a household member. Time commitment should be agreed within the work team,” said Nuri.

Interactive talkshow on workers’ mental health in time of the pandemic

Hence, how do companies anticipate the threat of mental health problems for their employees? The representative of PT Mitsubishi Motors Krama Yudha Indonesia, Rakhmat Aji Pratomo, said that the company has developed a mitigation mechanism by forming a special team for COVID-19 prevention.

In addition to ensuring health protocols and conditions in the workplace, this team focuses on mental health of workers. The team implements and monitors the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) set by the company on, among others, working hours, health service supports, work assignments and employees’ mobility, especially when working from home.

“The company also closely works with the trade union. To realize decent work, the involvement of workers in decision-making is significantly important. The activities can be simple, for example, by delivering food gift to worker’s home,’’ shared Aji.

Meanwhile, Grace Monica Halim, Technical Staff of ILO Geneva, underscored that mental health has become the concern of the ILO long before the COVID-19 was declared as a global pandemic. “Health issues are not only physical, but also mental. Stress can cause other effects, including work accidents, decreased work quality,” she stated.

Three ILO’s Conventions Nos. 155, 161 and 187 cover mental health issues under the principles of occupational safety and health (OSH). In relations to smart working, Grace said that it is part of decent work. “Because smart working is human-centered. The point is that workers must know their rights,” she stressed.

Negative stigma against workers with mental health disorders remains a big challenge for workers to ask for help. “They do not have courage to seek help as they are afraid of being stigmatized,” explained Grace, stressing that this kind of perception need to be eliminated immediately for the benefits of workers and the company. “For this reason, the ILO always encourages dialogue between workers and employers to eliminate stigmas like this.”

Furthermore, to ensure business continuity and job security during the pandemic, including workers’ mental health, the ILO is currently initiating a COVID-19 risk assessment service in the workplace targeting 1,500 workplaces in Indonesia. Through this service, companies will be provided with technical assistance to be able to safely continue and expand business operations during the pandemic.

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