What Can You Actually Do to Improve Mental Health at Work?
For a long time, mental health was not truly up for discussion during the workday. When mental health awareness month was established in 1949, it broadened the awareness around good mental health, but only in the last few years has discussing and supporting one’s mental health in the workplace really become a focus or priority. We have a lot of reasons for this surge, but most recently the Coronavirus pandemic has shown us over the last year that your mental health can no longer be ignored or pushed aside.
There are a lot of things we can all do to improve our own physical and mental well-being outside of work. But what can you do as a leader, colleague or mentor to help those around you? It's especially difficult when we are all connected on Teams or Slack for eight hours a day; not to mention the sometimes relentless emails or texts received long after you have signed off for the night. Well, there’s your first step!
It’s time to start unplugging! When the workday is done, it should be your first priority to step away from the desk, maybe silence your email or collaborative apps and start to decompress. That isn’t to say when the clock strikes 5 pm you ignore the important tasks that truly end your day, but it means when you’re making dinner, walking the dog or going to bed – you aren’t addressing what can be easily handled tomorrow "in the office."
The next step is to actually talk about your mental health. There’s a big difference between seeking counseling or therapy vs discussing intimate issues with coworkers. But it can be important to vent and to address your mental health’s needs. If the workdays are getting too crazy, or you are feeling unsupported, it’s crucial you discuss that with your team or leaders so that you can avoid burnout or worse symptoms of mental unhealth.
There are also several initiatives that HR, leadership, ERGs, or colleagues can implement and prioritize to improve mental health. These range from mindfulness sessions and happy hours, to outside resources like counseling or ERPs. However, all these concepts must be authentic and tangible – getting hollow resources no one uses or feels comfortable using are a waste of everyone’s time and money. So, listen to your team! If the consensus is that the team needs more help getting the work done, then discuss rearranging plates or making hires to take off some pressure.
If people are completely drained and overworked, try flexible work schedules by day or week. Consider additional benefits like Snow Days or extra PTO when the workload winds down a bit, or care packages that are really tailored to your team. Offering Calm or Headspace apps as a benefit can also go a long way.
There are dozens of effective ways to take care of yourself and your team during this Mental Health Awareness Month, and every day and month after it. A holistic employee experience is just that, it should encompass all the pieces of a person. When we spend 40+ hours a week together and on the same team at work, mental health can no longer be overlooked.