The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the 10th day of the 10th month of every year as World Mental Health Day. October 10 is a special day to show how important it is that, as a global community, we look after each other and make sure that every person’s struggles in their headspaces are recognized and valued. Moreover, with the many discoveries and a growing emphasis on prioritizing mental health, the world seems to be a safer place to express one’s feelings.
But when it comes to safer spaces to be open about one’s inner struggles, have you taken a look at your workplace lately? While board games and occasional Kahoot quizzes or once-a-month company lunches help bring the mood up from time to time, employees can still feel lonely with their thoughts when they go back to their workspaces. When left unnoticed, these heavy thoughts can affect one’s work and even become a detriment to the company with employee turnovers.
You don’t have to be the next Dr. Phil to sort out people’s struggles and bring solutions immediately. Sometimes, the smallest acts of kindness snowball to the biggest payoff: a renewed company culture and attracting and retaining talented employees. Prioritizing mental health will do wonders for your workforce’s productivity and satisfaction levels.
The stigma of being open about mental health is still apparent.
The goal of WHO in recognizing World Mental Health Day is to call on local and global governments to prioritize reducing factors that hinder individuals from recovering from their inner struggles. While global and local efforts are visible and effective, the struggle to openly discuss mental health is still apparent.
Gustavo Arnal, CFO of Bed Bath and Beyond, took his own life last September 2. Working 18 hours a day and being bombarded with emails from investors probably led him to feel overwhelmed and lose control. While not everyone knows Gustavo’s story and background, what’s apparent is that he did have his own battles. Unfortunately, this also indicates that anyone can fall victim to mental health woes, no matter where you are on the corporate ladder.
Self-care and mindfulness are not enough.
Self-care is any activity one deliberately takes for physical, mental, or emotional health. It’s a practice that encourages a person to be in the best shape and invites others to be open with their own difficulties and welcome help.
You’ve also probably encountered the term “mindfulness.” It’s about being present, not putting too much thought into what could happen or what has happened. Others may be more familiar with the term “Be Here Now,” which asks everyone to stay in the moment, focus, and pay attention. It’s a way to quiet one’s thoughts and savor the present as a means to pause from one’s busyness.
While there is beauty in approaching your coworkers and giving them a tap on the shoulder from time to time, little gestures like these may not be enough. Also, if not appropriately explained or used in the proper context, mindfulness can be more harmful than helpful.
For one, individuals may find the practice of “being here now” as a way to separate work from personal concerns. While this may be efficient in helping one focus on the task at hand, realizing they have to go back to their problems eventually may exacerbate one’s mental health situation.
Part of “being here now” is doing compartmentalization, which is about putting stressors out of the mind to avoid negative feelings. This unconscious retaliation of the brain is not helpful, as problems are only shunned, not solved.
Additionally, mindfulness techniques are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Case in point: a 37-year-old professional went through a three-day mindfulness seminar, and she found the techniques introduced initially relaxing. However, as the workshop went on, feelings of trauma resurfaced, and she then experienced panic attacks and a breakdown that led to three months in psychiatry.
While this particular scenario may be extreme, it’s a clear example that “being here now” cannot be a blanket reminder to all employees without steps in actually prioritizing mental health. There should be concrete action from organizations and leaders like yourself, far from positive words and small gestures that don’t have an effect in the long run.
On top of the reminders to “take care of yourself,” take action for your team. More paid time off in the form of mental health leaves? Rotating work schedules or hybrid work arrangements to allow work-from-home? You’ve probably come across these suggestions to up the ante on prioritizing mental health, and chances are you will implement them, and they will work.
However, consider little acts that will allow your workers to go out of their headspaces and build intimate connections between you and the rest of the workforce. Feelings of detachment can still grow even if one mingles with coworkers daily. These feelings breed loneliness, which is tied to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
Take time to reach out to your workforce, whomever they are. Remind company leaders to follow suit in giving their team ample time to converse with their managers and supervisors. Read these suggestions, apply them to your fellow leaders, and pass on the tips to them:
Communicate more and better.
If employee engagement has been strictly work-related, it’s time to break this up. For starters, never underestimate the power of small talk. It’s not necessarily about exchanging ideas but finding common ground, which can lead to a more relaxed yet meaningful connection with coworkers.
Next time you see them grabbing a coffee from the pantry to change their Microsoft Teams display pic, why not give them a short message? Small talk has to start somewhere. Additionally, be mindful of preferred communication styles. Do they need to be approached via email, social media, or face-to-face meetings? Giving them options bodes well, as they feel their communication boundaries are respected.
Make them feel they belong.
It’s not enough that they get to be part of team meetings. How about giving each member a chance to speak about the discussion points presented and welcoming everyone to converse with you outside the meeting if they have qualms speaking in front of everyone? This way, workers feel not only listened to but empowered to voice out.
Also, don’t limit meetings to company matters. One-on-one conversations to check on individual members give them a chance to express themselves within a closed and sacred space. You can also do team huddles to converse about anything under the sun. You have the power to build a sense of community through the guise of team meetings.
Be more compassionate.
While workers are expected to hit targets all the time, there might be underlying factors you have to consider rather than passing judgment that said worker is lazy or not fit for the job. Ask the person if they are struggling with anything, in or outside the office. It helps to get the big picture first.
Compassion can also extend to other aspects of worker life. Perhaps human resources can be less strict with workday absences if it’s not more than one day? If mistakes were committed, approach the person separately, not make a big fuss about it. When professionals feel that their situation is considered first before anything else, it rids them with negative thoughts. That is why compassion should be foremost in prioritizing mental health.
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Efforts recognized through World Mental Health Day won’t go unnoticed as you make small yet impactful changes in your workplace. But when it comes to making the right choices to improve your staffing agency’s positive employer brand, there’s also a surefire solution.
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