Your Mental Health at Work, Part II: What You Can Do
Depression alone causes an estimated 200 million lost workdays to employers every year, according to statistics reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Job stressors include the work becoming more demanding, a reduction in control over what you do, an increase in work hours and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notice the warning signs
"If you don't hear from someone or they become disengaged in meetings, then these are signs to check in on a co-worker," Eshaiker said.
According to Jamie Farr, well-being trainer and coach at YourNorth in Wales, people losing interest in activities they used to love is also a warning.
"You see people who stop going for their lunchtime walk, stop going to the gym or stop talking about their favorite sports," Farr explained. "It seems subtle, but noticing those things about people is really important…Changes in eating habits are another thing to look out for."
Farr advised that if you start noticing changes, no matter how small, in a co-worker, it's a good idea to ask them how they are. Sometimes a simple question is all it takes to open a conversation about mental health.
Another key warning sign to look out for is underperformance at work, especially if a person has been enthusiastic and performing well in their role previously, Farr said.
"It's easy to assume they may have a problem at home, but often the problem is the workload or taking on too much," Farr said.
In addition, the blurring of boundaries between home and work can leave people feeling overwhelmed and burned out. This stress can very easily be carried home, affecting both work and home life.
What you can do in the workplace
On an individual level, issues with mental health can impact your overall health, home life, work performance and long-term career trajectory. Taking some time to assess and address your mental well-being can only result in positive outcomes.
Janet Philbin is a licensed clinical social worker, certified hypnotherapist, certified conscious parenting coach and author of "Show Up for Yourself: A Guide to Inner Awareness and Growth." She shared five tips to help you support your own mental health and emotional wellness in the workplace:
- Schedule some self-care for yourself. This doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. Each person has their own unique way to put steps in place that are loving and caring for themselves. A few simple suggestions include:
- Take some time off work.
- Come into work on time and leave on time at the end of the day.
- Leave work at work—don't take your work worries home with you.
- Take your lunch break and leave the building; don't eat at your desk.
- Meet a friend for lunch and try not to talk about work.
- Find time for activities outside of work that help you refuel. For some people, that may be exercise, meditation, reading non-work-related material, spending time in nature or time with family.
- Talk to a therapist or coach. Many companies have EAPs (employee assistance programs), which are run through the human resources department. Through a confidential EAP program, you can be referred to a therapist specializing in helping people with work-related stress and burnout. The therapist listens with empathy and understanding and helps decrease your feelings of isolation and stress. The therapist also teaches coping skills and provides tools to help your mood improve.
- Speak to your supervisor. Be honest about how you feel and inquire if you can take on new responsibilities at work that you may find more inspiring. Changing your role or even some of what you do each day can help light a spark of inspiration to reengage at work and lift your mood. Sometimes it may not be possible to make changes where you work. If this is the case, you may want to consider looking for a new place to work or taking evening classes that interest you.
- Getting a good night's rest. Sleep is one of the most important actions you can take to improve your mental health. To function at your best each day, you need good sleep, which means turning off electronics early and giving your brain and eyes a chance to rest. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Inconsistent and/or inadequate sleep can inhibit your body's ability to recover from the day and, therefore, bring yesterday's exhaustion into your next shift.
Farr added it's essential to notice how you're spending your time. This is especially crucial for people working from home, where the lines between work and home may become blurred.
"How many times do you carry on working late at home or switch on your computer to check your emails after the kids have gone to bed?" Farr asked. "Make a note of how much extra work you are doing and then you'll soon notice when you are doing too much."
"In addition, advocating for yourself is vital," Eshaiker said, even if your company culture doesn't seem supportive. "Don't assume that speaking up will not be received well. Sometimes the company may not have noticed a problem, and one person speaking up can change the culture."
If you don't feel confident speaking about a problem outright, Eshaiker advised having a broader conversation about your goals and your future.
"This can help reorient the conversation to the problems you are facing," she added. "And this will also help you realign your workload and projects to your future aspirations and goals."
Improving workplace mental health has never been more important than now. Leaders must view employees holistically—as a person and not just a role. Understanding the needs of individual employees helps to develop better policies for workplace mental health.
Employees with good mental health not only have a better quality of life, they also demonstrate increased work productivity and a greater likelihood of contributing to their communities, as well as bearing a lower risk of illness. Building a healthy workplace culture benefits everyone.