Why Our Environmental Crisis is a Public Health Concern
The term mental health disorder refers to a wide range of mental states associated with moods, feelings, or behaviors that impair an individual’s quality of life.
We are in a mental health crisis - this is a phrase topical in today’s headlines which parallels other pressing concerns associated with our environmental crisis.
My question is, are these two crises linked? And if they are, how must the corporate world adapt?
I work for the Business Process Management startup Process Street. At Process Street, we believe employee wellbeing is of vital importance, and work to maintain this daily. In this article, I give you our 7 tried and tested tips we trust will help the corporate world support employees during these turbulent times.
Understanding our environmental crisis
W ind speeds of 100mph ravaged homes and businesses, ripping-up mortar and concrete like leaves in a breeze.
The Texas hurricane season had arrived once again, wreaking havoc, pummeling a region economically-bolstered by the extensive chemical industry. 2020 saw Hurricane Laura flare across the Texas state, chemical plants, and the livelihoods they support were in sight of Laura’s category 4 wrath.
“It’s like we can’t catch a break,” - said Maureen McAllister, the president of Texas’ United Way of Orange County.
Hurricane Laura alone cost ~$20 billion. Above-normal hurricane seasons are becoming… well, the new normal for Texas state residents. These observations are in line with IPCC expectations, with more extreme weather conditions and storms predicted into the future due to climate change.
Once more, humans have caused the annihilation of 83% of all wild animals and half of all plants.
Habitat and species loss, working in tandem with climate change, creates a perfect storm labeled as our environmental crisis. And its people and organisations who stand on the firing line.
We are entering challenging, arduous, and stressful times - the degree of which is dependent on our ability to act and adapt right here, right now.
Linking our environmental crisis and public mental health
Poorer economies: Climatic emergencies are projected to cumulatively cost the world economy $8 trillion by 2050, causing an economic downturn of 3%. This economic hit is expected to worsen public mental health, with fewer available jobs, more people living below the poverty threshold, and a poorer standard of living.
Trauma: A surge in natural disaster frequency and extreme weather events will traumatise livelihoods. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), injury (primary outcomes), anxiety, and depression (secondary outcomes) are a direct consequence.
Loss of refuge: Species and habitat extinction degrade the beauty and awe that comes with natural diversity and wonder. Humans evolved in nature, and therefore we are genetically programmed to find the natural world absorbing. Nature provides mental refuge and escapism from daily stresses for many.
Loss of services: Society is entirely dependent on Earth’s resources. Water, medicines, food, fibers, and energy - this all demanded on a whim. Pillaging these resources in an unsustainable way will only strip our planet bare leaving subsequent generations deprived of fundamental, basic needs.
Stressful environments: Bombardment of crisis news and frightening reports on climate change, species extinction, and overexploitation shroud our environment in a smog of unease, anxiety, hopelessness, and frustration.
Mental health disorders have significantly risen over the past decade. Could the above be direct factors causing this trend?
Our public mental health concern is a business concern
One poor mental health day is associated with a 1.84% drop in per capita real income growth rate. This results in $53 billion less total income each year.
A recent study by the WHO estimated that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1tn each year from productivity losses.
Mental health and substance abuse cost employers ~$225.8bn each year.
In contrast, happier workers:
- Are 13% more productive and engaged
- Make better decisions
- Have better time management
- Form stronger relationships with teammates
- Are more creative
- Have greater loyalty
In short, happier teams lead to lower business costs, higher work quality, and increased work quantity.
To create such teams, support needs to be given to take care of the mental health and wellbeing of all employees.
Stress management in business during challenging times
Employers also need to adjust to mitigate the stress-inducing impacts of our environmental crisis. Doing so will seek benefits such as greater productivity, innovation, and creativity. Once more, improving employee mental wellbeing doesn't need substantial business investment. Just foresight, proactivity, open-mindedness, and empathy.
With this in mind, I give you 7 top tips our teams abide by. These tips have helped us navigate the challenges of remote work and a viral pandemic. We’re confident they’ll also help us sail the winds of our current environmental crisis.
Tip #1: Encouraging open communication
At Process Street we use Slack and Zoom to connect while working remotely. Slack channels provide space for support, open communication, and company banter. If you need help, ping me anytime is a quote often passed around in our team.
Once more, Process Street’s culture embraces consistent improvement by encouraging reassuring critique on work given and received between all hierarchical levels. For instance, Process Street’s content creation team passes articles from one member to another for review, establishing communication lines between all team members regardless of title.
Tip #2: Introduce meditation classes
Meditation is something I actively incorporate at the start of my day as a remote worker. In an office-based setting, meditation can be encouraged by providing a quiet space or by purchasing guided meditation classes.
According to Harvard Business Review, many CEOs are taking up meditation and looking to find ways to bring it to their employees due to the immediate benefits brought. Smartphone apps such as Headspace offer a cheaper helping hand.
Tip #3: Encourage employees to take breaks
A non-stop working culture is damaging to your employees and your business in the long-run. No human can work indefinitely without rest, breaks, and time to fulfill their soul.
Encouraging breaks can relieve internal and external stress and enhance productivity. For me, I make sure I get outside into the fresh air regularly throughout the day, to clear my mind and bring a greater perspective to my work and non-professional life.
Tip #4: Establish strong workplace relationships
A Harvard study starting in 1938 during the Great Depression tracked the lives of men and women from all walks of life. Some had little money. Some had little education. A lot had none, and the same proportion had both.
The study concluded that no matter what happens in life, whether individuals lose great swaths of money, move up the corporate ladder, encounter trauma... good relationships took the pedestal in defining human happiness and positive wellbeing.
The establishment of good relationships in the workplace should therefore be encouraged (especially with remote teams), to strengthen employees' mental state against external pressures. Encourage informal chats, organise company retreats, and begin meetings with ice breakers - these are simple ways you can create strong relationships for your team.
Tip #5: Maintain a good work-life balance and set an example
Mental and physical health should not be deprioritised at the expense of work. Sufficient amounts of time should be given for employees to enjoy other aspects of their lives apart from work. This is especially important during turbulent times. Flexitime, providing an option for remote work, giving sufficient holiday and time off, and enforcing healthy working hours bolster the work-life balance for your employees. Once more, leaders need to set an example and look after their mental health.
Tip #6: Incorporate nature into the work setting
Research has shown that even a simple pot-plant can induce feelings of ease and relaxation. Humans evolved in nature and we are therefore genetically programmed to find trees, water, and plants absorbing. Once more, introducing nature into the workplace is another way organisations can be more environmentally friendly. It's a win-win situation!
Introduce nature into the working environment and embolden employees to take time out into the fresh air and natural world.
Tip #7: Get motivated with movement
There is a plethora of research indicating the positive effects of exercise on human mental wellbeing. Exercise reduces stress-related hormones that cause amygdala activation associated with a lowered positive disposition.
For me, running, rock climbing and yoga help me cope with stress and anxieties that come with modern-day life during uncertain times. Not only do these sports release natural dopamine feel-good hormones - but they also get me outside into nature, give me a means for adventure, and help me establish strong, encouraging, quality friendships if I go with others.
Setting up workplace sporting groups doesn’t require expensive investments. It’s easy, simple, and given the positivity brought, in my opinion, the best thing you can do to support your employee’s mental health.
Prepare for the challenge and build robust businesses
Our mental health crisis and our environmental crisis are top concerns for society and business. Our environmental crisis does little to support public mental well-being, the term crisis being indicative of this point.
The degree to which recent changes regarding the stability of our planet have impacted public mental wellbeing is up for debate. Regardless, taking a precautionary principle and mitigating the risks associated means an organisation must adapt to:
- Become more sustainable.
- Support the mental wellbeing of employees during turbulent times.
This adaption fills the gaps to build stronger, more robust businesses that are resilient to the global challenges society faces.
Here’s to happier people. Here’s to happier businesses. And here’s to a happier planet