For much of our adult lives we’ll spend most of our waking hours at work. During recent years, our working environments have changed in ways that would have been difficult to imagine 10, 5 or even 3 years ago. New technologies and access to the Internet enables us to work outside the workplace and on the go. This has led to increased levels of productivity and the ability to communicate at anytime, anywhere. But at what cost?
Sick leave, bereavement leave and even compassion within the workplace because of physical injuries are expected. But what about our mental health?
The importance of physical and mental health
Yes, we may be able to answer a client’s email at 2am in the morning. But what is that doing to our productivity and stress levels in the long–run? This is a question that is imperative we ask now. We all want happy, healthy team members and management. That’s why it’s essential to not only look after our physical health, but our mental health too.
The extent and pace of change can often mean harmful use of alcohol or other substances, absenteeism and lost productivity. Unfortunately, the lost productivity is a result of depression and anxiety.
Some causes of the above can include poor communication and management practices, limited participation in decision-making, long or inflexible working hours and lack of team unity. Bullying and psychological harassment are well-known causes of work-related stress and related mental health problems.
Education is key
Fortunately, all over the world - and especially now here in NZ - there is a growing recognition that the mental well-being of employees is something we have to explore and pay attention to. At the end of the day, looking after our mental health in the workplace will have an overall positive impact on organisational success, professional fulfilment and a better quality of life for all of us.
So what can you do in your workplace to ensure the mental health of your team?
Communication. Having an open discussion about anxiety and depression is the first step to making a difference. Often a person who is experiencing distress from anxiety and depression has an added fear of being stigmatised and, at worse, losing their job. This can culminate in said person attempting to ‘hide’ symptoms, deny their condition and stop them from getting help. Seek consent with your team member to discuss functional limitations, stressors, prognosis and recovery timeframes. Ensure they are taking the necessary steps with their GP to get a proper diagnosis.
Ensure staff are aware of support that is available, e.g. employee assistance programmes (EAP), peer support, flexible working arrangements, coaching, counselling and any subsidies for gyms, yoga studios or workplace massages. It is vitally important that they know they are not alone in this.
Offer staff training about mental illness, work-related stress, discrimination and bullying/harassment to improve understanding and management of mental health (and other) issues. Just as importantly, foster an open culture where mental wellness issues can be discussed. We all know knowledge is power: if you have a team member experiencing mental distress in a team where no one understands what it’s like to be trapped in something like this, it is extremely important to educate them.
Monitor workload at regular intervals. The team member may not want to have their workload decreased as this could cause them to have a feeling of inadequacy. On the contrary, it may be necessary to lighten their load. Either way, be sure to check in on a daily or weekly basis. Ask how they feel, how they are coping, what can you do to help them on that particular day.
Assess the physical work environment to address potential stressors. Are they struggling with simple tasks such as answering the phone? Answering emails? Are they constantly in-demand? It’s important to talk to the team member about their time management. If they are attempting to be everything for everyone at any one time, it is a good idea to set periods where someone else may answer the phone. Alternatively, in order for them to catch up, or take a break, they can put their out-of-office on. If they are being bullied or harassed, while it is important to deal with the issue, moving them physically away from people, places and things that are triggers can help until the deeper issues are ironed out.
Allow flexible working arrangements where possible/appropriate. People who experience mental distress often have the most trouble in the morning. It can be a monumental feat to get out of bed, dressed and get into work. Try to be understanding about this, and know that just by getting there, they have achieved something major in their day.
Have a code word. If your team member experiences panic attacks that may come from nowhere, consider using a code word. This gives them the extra security that if they are in a meeting or are overwhelmed, they can mention it and help can be drafted in to lighten the load while they have some space to allow it to pass. Even knowing they have a code word can go a long way in their recovery.
Celebrate! Celebrate wins with them. All too often we get sucked into the negative sides of work. Being able to review our week and see the little achievements along the way can be a major factor in recovery.
We all have a role to play
Evolution is the gradual development of something. Technology has evolved so fast and it is only getting better and better. However, if we humans don’t evolve along with the technology, find ways to counter it, and connect with ourselves and others, it will make us sick. And this sickness may start where we spend most of our day. An effective leader in an organisation will see the risks of reduced mental health and take steps to prevent it, improve and succeed. The result? A healthy, happy, productive team beside them. It’s a group effort. So let’s make a difference starting today.
© Right Hand Man 2019