Reducing stigma in companies reduces emotional stress, research says

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Research carried out by the Gattaz Health&Results group, which used artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose the mental health of 86,000 employees from 30 large corporations in Brazil, including Petrobras and Vale, allows the diagnosis of large populations through a questionnaire sent by email or cell phone. The answers are more than 95% correct in making a diagnostic hypothesis.

The mental health program implemented in these companies after the study is based, in the first place, on information, explained the general director of the group, professor of Psychiatry at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of São Paulo (USP), Wagner Gattaz, at the 39th Congress. Brazilian Association of Psychiatry, promoted by the Brazilian Association of Psychiatry (ABP), in Fortaleza.

“The initial step is to inform to reduce stigma. By reducing stigma, people are willing to fill out the questionnaire and reduce emotional stress,” she explained. Once this is done, treatment strategies are forwarded and also to promote well-being and, with that, promote mental health, preventing disorders, including burnout syndrome, in addition to anxiety and depression.

According to the USP professor, the results found are different from the general population. “An interesting finding is that, in the general population, 20% of people have an anxiety disorder. In workers, it’s 5%”, said Gattaz, adding that this is explained because, in order to work, the person goes through an interview, and even if the human resources staff is not a psychologist, they know how to detect when the candidate is nervous.

Studies show that a person with anxiety is less likely to get a job. “I would say it’s a natural selection. It’s not that work reduces anxiety, it’s that those who have anxiety can’t get work,” Gattaz said.

Other results

Of the universe of 86 thousand employees analyzed, 13% were diagnosed with severe depression and almost 50% with depressive symptoms. Wagner Gattaz said the percentage of employees with severe depression need treatment. The rate is slightly higher than the 12% found in the general population 10 years ago. The professor said the increase occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The risk of alcohol use was found in 9% of respondents, double what it was 10 years ago (4%). “In fact, we know that, in the pandemic, people started to drink more, to consume more different drinks”.

Another important finding refers to burnout, which is a condition associated with work, which affects around 20% of people in this sample of more than 80,000 workers. In the previous survey, which encompassed the total population, the rate found was also around 20%. However, in the recent study, the index varied a lot among the different activities and, mainly, among the different heads of the different work groups. According to Wagner Gattaz, “this refers a lot to a protective factor for the leader as well”.

Gattaz pointed out, on the other hand, that the number of people affected in the work environment by burnout varies within the company itself and between professions. “Usually, burnout is higher in people who have direct contact with the public, for example, bank employees, who work at the cash desk and in which the rate reaches 70%”. In other companies, areas with low burnout are found. This depends a lot not only on the profession and activity, but also on the leadership, said Gattaz.

Leadership training is part of Professor Gattaz’s group’s program to reduce the environmental risk of burnout. The strongest protective factor against burnout is to promote social support in the work environment. “Good contact with managers, with colleagues, assertive and clear communication, all this prevents burnout as an environmental factor”.

Covid has affected these numbers and, in particular, people working from home, due to social distancing, fear of infection and of losing their jobs. These factors increased stress and work overload and also increased the risk of burnout. “We found around 40% to 50% in some areas,” Gattaz said.


In addition to the greater communication that must exist between superiors and subordinates, the study group recommended to companies a factor that reduces burnout, autonomy, when the company gives the employee “the power and ability to decide what to do, when to do it and how to make”.

Although the home office has increased the overhead, some people have started to perform better working from home. “This surprised many companies that, at first, didn’t want to know about the home office and suddenly saw that employees were producing more. This happened, in addition to the obvious factors such as not wasting time in traffic, among others, because the person working at home has autonomy. She knows what time she can wake up, she knows what time she has the highest peak of productivity and creativity. Then you can decide which times are best for her. With that autonomy, productivity increased,” she explains.

Another factor used by companies is the power distance index, that is, how hierarchies are determined in the company. The higher this index, the greater the risk for burnout because the person, instead of respecting the leader, is afraid of him. “The leader is not respected. He is feared. Hierarchy is not a natural thing, but forced. All this plasters the work environment and increases the risk of burnout”.

Another factor that generates burnout is the demand to produce more in less time. The psychiatrist warned that if there is demand, on the one hand, and, on the other, protective factors, such as social support and autonomy, the risk of burnout ends up balanced.

Wagner Gattaz’s recommendation to companies to maintain the mental health of their employees involves the promotion of mental health and resilience programs, in the first place, and lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating, physical activity physics, relationships.

“When this is encouraged, the person feels healthier and with less burnout in the work environment. It is also necessary to offer training in the handling and management of stress, especially relaxation training. O mindfulness (mindfulness) is a very powerful weapon to reduce risks,” he said.

While offering these elements to employees, the company trains leaders to encourage protective factors in the work environment, which are autonomy, social support and an environment of proximity to power. Some companies have adopted labor gymnastics within the work environment. Gattaz assured that it is already scientifically proven that this reduces wear and tear and has a promoting effect on mental health and well-being.

* The reporter traveled at the invitation of the Brazilian Association of Psychiatry (ABP)

Translated to english by RJ983

From Brazil, by EBC News

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