Preserving mental wellness in the workplace is everyone’s business

Michelle Obama once very astutely observed, “No-one rides life on a high all the time” and this could never be more appropriate than now with all we have had to deal with since the advent of COVID-19. I promised at the conclusion of my last article that I would expand on my observation that, “the brave agents at the forefront of a travel industry, which has been turned on its head in a very short time, are expected to achieve an almost impossible task, and are also dealing with the same mental and emotional issues that this cursed pandemic has brought upon us all.”

The travel industry in the UK is, during the week of 20 to 25 September, observing what they are calling, “Mental health in travel awareness week”. Folks in the UK are using the hashtag #ribbonfortravel which is a recognition of mental health issues in the travel industry and they have even created a website www.ribbonfortravel.com for international, interested parties to follow. I think this is so relevant right now. The mental fatigue that those in travel are experiencing after having been under the pressure of not knowing what the future will deliver for over 18 months is quite palpable. Whilst Bidvest subscribes to an outsourced employee wellness programme, it is a programme where line managers can refer their staff to, or staff themselves (& their family members have access to), many of us haven’t recognised the stress that we are dealing with. It is something I have observed within my own businesses, is that we need to actively listen to our colleagues, and watch the non-verbal cues as well.  Whilst none of us are trained counsellors, it may just be possible that we may identify a need when engaging with our peers that we may identify.  Within my own cluster of travel businesses within BidTravel we  are doing mental wellness training within our cluster, and this is in fact compulsory for all staff members.

There is a new normal in mental wellness

The travel industry is by no means the only one affected by the mental health effects of COVID-19 either. Almost every mother or caregiver in the family have had their lives turned upside down with the impact of remote learning due to the closure of schools and working mothers have lost livelihoods through the necessity of remaining at home to be with their children. Those who were lucky enough not to lose their jobs have had to deal with all this whilst holding down full-time jobs or keeping their businesses afloat. How can we simply adjust to the challenges of these complete changes that happened overnight in our daily lives and the way we work, without facing anxiety, stress and emotional upheaval?

The new norm is to be strong, resilient and rise above it all, but sometimes we simply need to realise that we may need help – and most importantly understand that our spouse, business partner or work colleague may need help too. SADAG is Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group and on their website you will find comprehensive mental health information and resources to help you, a family member or a loved one. You can contact them at 0800 567 567 (within South Africa) and their website is https://www.sadag.org/

Who’s concern does mental wellness need to be?

Certainly, every business needs to take cognisance of, and responsibility for, the severe emotional and mental issues all their employees are facing. But, as the U.KRibbon for Travel initiative tells us, it is also for every individual in every business to remind yourself to check in on the mental state of those around you and to check in on yourself as well! We all need to talk and get people talking to each other, so please, for the sake of all those who make up the global family of men and women in the workplace, each one wrestling with the same challenges and striving for the same outcomes, get involved in any way you can!

We South African’s especially, who believe in and try to live by the spirit of Ubuntu, should always recognise the essential human virtues of compassion and humanity. Ubuntu says ‘’I am because you are’’ – so we should always be looking out for the other to ensure our collective mental wellness. Stay safe, stay positive – and be kind to yourselves.LIDIA FOLLI



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