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More focus on mental health

17 Jan 2021 / 20:22 H.

    BEING meticulous is one thing. Being overzealous is another matter altogether, especially in today’s context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

    It’s certainly trying times for many Malaysians today. With over 4,000 cases reported recently, who knows what’s going to happen to you, or your loved ones?

    Many in the private sector have been affected from loss of jobs and reduced incomes.

    But what about mental stress levels? Has that issue been handled well, or professionally by employers, or the human resource departments?

    Surely there’s a clarion call for this crucial issue to be addressed, especially the ones who are dutifully working to sustain their jobs to the best of their abilities.

    One industry where the mental stress levels has certainly made its mark is in the private higher education sector. As the pandemic increases, there is a likelihood that classes will be conducted online.

    Undeniably, student recruitment via online is crucial for private institutions to increase its coffers.

    But does moving lessons online mean it has to be ridiculous, overzealous, with over ambitious types of standard operating procedures (SOP) purely to meet the student expectations? What about staff welfare and their mental well-being?

    Some of the SOPs include a gamut of activities: from engaging with games, to pre-recorded lessons, to detailed accounts of what the lecturer is teaching.

    All these collectively affects the mental well-being of employees. One must realise not all academics are adept at using the latest in technology, in fact some fear using it. A day or two of training does not help either!

    It has been reported that academics in England have described the Covid-19 pandemic as nightmarish, which has triggered soaring anxiety levels, exhaustion and fear, driving many to consider quitting and even self-harm. Thus far, none have been reported locally, but are we going to wait for this to happen?

    One wonders where are the United Nations’ 17 Sustainability Goals in this equation. Especially goals three and eight, which includes ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all regardless of age and decent work respectively.

    No doubt the SOP is needed to maintain the quality of accredited programs, or to ensure Malaysian Qualification Assurance accreditation processes are met, but does it have to always be so meticulous and rigorous?

    Obviously, there can be some leeway given, especially in stressful times like this.

    Just imagine, in between having children at home, taking care of household chores and working from home, there’s a huge dark cloud between work and family time, even on the weekends.

    Perhaps stringent SOPs may work in normal times, but during these abnormal times there should be more flexibility.

    In fact, staring at the computer the whole day in itself is harmful and, despite the seamless connectivity, has many pitfalls. This includes miscommunication and the much dreaded “Little Napoléon” syndrome.

    What a contrast to European universities where the European University Association has taken a balanced approach in terms of civic engagement with all stakeholders, including staff feedback.

    The top-down approach in communication simply has to change.

    ReachOut Australia, the world’s first online mental health service provider has stated so succinctly, that “teachers regularly have to juggle many competing demands. As a result, they can easily put other people’s mental health and well-being needs ahead of their own. However, it’s important that teachers take the time to prioritise their own mental health and well-being, for their benefit and that of the whole school community.

    “Mental health and well-being activities for teachers should be ongoing and holistic. Embedding self-care activities such as physical activity, catching up with friends, and setting boundaries around work can support teachers to improve and maintain their personal well-being.”

    The question is with the over-arching and arduous SOP, can this be attained?

    It’s time for private higher institutions to reflect and take a step-back and look into proactive and inclusive measures for a staff’s mental being.

    Distraught Academic’s Husband

    Kuala Lumpur

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