Work and stress are often synonymous. The two go hand-in-hand. Pressure from bosses and the company to perform, as well as early mornings, long commutes, and awkward conversations around the water cooler all can build upon your mind and cause serious long term damage.
But the concept of “work” is a vital one in our modern world; it is our duty to work and contribute to society to serve the betterment of the whole. However — unless you’re doing what you love — you’re probably stressing about work every day.
Additionally, many people within the working world are struggling with their own conditions and experiences. Mood disorders, psychological disorders, PTSD, severe anxiety, and ADHD are all common conditions that affect millions of Americans. With the combination of these conditions and severe stress caused by work, it’s surprising that more businesses don’t put a focus on the importance of mental wellbeing.
But why should businesses emphasize mental wellbeing? How does an employee’s mental state affect the entire company, and how can leaders help alleviate mental stressors? Through researched examples, let’s dive into the prevalence and importance of discussing and promoting mental wellbeing in the office.
Why Mental Wellbeing Matters
With all the technological and other advancements that have happened over the past century, it’s strange to think of how far our country has come in terms of infrastructure, but how far we still have to go in terms of eliminating negative cultural stigmas and stereotypes.
Strong stigmas related to mental illness have resulted in severe misunderstandings surrounding the prevalence and portrayal of very common conditions. The negative stereotypes have further forced sufferers into silence, causing them to not acknowledge their illness and thus put off treatment. Over time, while the illness goes unaddressed, individuals may see a decline in their mental state, often times ending in outbursts, mental breaks, or suicide. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has compiled data on the prevalence of mental illness, and how lack of treatment can lead to hospitalization, high-cost medical treatment, and even death.
So what part does an employer have to play in the role of addressing mental health? For one, simply talking about it in a positive light can make a world of a difference for those that suffer from it. Building up what is known as a “culture of acceptance” can help everyone understand that mental illness is a normal human condition, and can help raise awareness around commonly misunderstood issues. Addressing it as it should be — just like any other physical illness — can help those that suffer feel more comfortable about opening up when they are declining and having a “bad mental health day.”
But there is more to mental illness awareness than simply talking about it openly. It is also important to build up a structure of support for employees. Managers and leaders should become educated on how to be more sensitive to the issue and why it matters.
However, being more open about mental wellbeing doesn’t just benefit employees. It can also help leaders build on their emotional intelligence — an important indicator of emotional awareness, both for yourself and for others. Managers with high emotional intelligence are known to be better listeners, and have a better understanding of their staff’s emotional and physical needs. Additionally, research has shown that when companies emphasize emotional intelligence among managers, productivity and profit have shown to increase by about 34 percent. Thus, emotional intelligence is not just important for understanding your employees, but for bettering the company as a whole.
In a similar vein, addressing mental illness in the office is an excellent way to prevent employee burnout. Burnout can be a result of overworking, long-term exposure to stress, or just sheer exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed. It can cost businesses millions of dollars every year due to low worker productivity and disengagement. By allowing employees to take a step back from the business and recharge (whether through a mental health day, flexible work schedules, or an extended time off), businesses can do a better job of combatting the rising disengagement crisis in the office. Employees will feel more at ease, and the business will have a stronger workforce because of it.
How to Promote Mental Wellbeing
There are a few different ways you can help promote mental wellbeing in the office. Here is a list of some options available to all businesses:
- Allie Lewis with Soloprotect, a company that specializes in Environmental and Health Safety (EHS) and workplace safety training, offers up some advice on the importance of addressing mental stressors in the office and how businesses can create a culture of acceptance. Not only can acceptance and awareness help improve the mental wellbeing of employees, but it can also help prevent serious cases of workplace violence. Lewis suggests:
“Many organizations will either hire an in-house counselor or utilize outsourced counseling so that their employees have the opportunity to privately and healthily talk about and get help for personal and potentially upsetting items in a professional, productive manner. Even if that is something that your company is not currently able to implement, employees should be able to go to HR to talk about issues that may be negatively affecting them within the workplace, allowing for these issues to be corrected early on. […] By sitting down with your employees, addressing the importance of mental health, encouraging this habit and highlighting the private nature along with other benefits of talking with HR, it is likely that you can really get your employees to share more than they otherwise would.”
- Create and maintain a fitness and wellness program. These are becoming very popular among larger organizations that promote “company culture,” and they certainly serve their purpose. They not only decrease the cost of insurance for many companies, but they can help workers develop and maintain healthier habits, which in turn can help relieve stress caused by the job.
- Letting in more natural light and improving the environment of the office can have a major effect on the mood of your employees. Research has shown that natural light promotes the creation of Vitamin D in our bodies, and can help employees be more productive and focused while working. It is both a healthy and aesthetically pleasing way to improve the office. Additionally, reducing clutter and bringing in plants and other appealing elements can help employees feel more relaxed while in the office.
- Have your business implement mental health days that work alongside or independently from sick days. Many workers — especially marginalized individuals that might struggle with asking for help or time off — might not be aware of the business’ policies towards mental health days. Ensure that they are familiar with the signs of stress and when they should ask for a mental health day. Additionally, make sure managers and other leaders do not shame workers for stepping away from the stress of work, but instead are flexible to their needs. Suffering from mental illness or severe anxiety and stress should not be approached with punishment at work, but should be treated just as any other illness.
- Lastly, do your part in ending the stigma surrounding mental illness by talking openly about it with employees. Emphasize the importance of taking time off when they need it, and remind them of the services available if they ever are feeling overwhelmed. If the employee feels comfortable enough to open up to you about their condition, listen to their needs, empathize, and consider offering them a plan to help them cope while in the office. Sometimes just knowing someone is on your side is enough to make everyday stressors a little more bearable. Being an open and supportive manager or leader can make all the difference to your employees.
Our society still has a long way to go when it comes to addressing and understanding mental illness. Stigmas will still be prevalent for years to come, but if businesses do their part in creating a culture of acceptance, then they can slowly help end the stigma around mental illness. Employees and businesses can each benefit from a more accepting environment around these very common conditions. Don’t let your employees suffer in silence a day longer.