As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we are taking a look at mental health in the workplace, namely stress. Although a little stress is normal, and can even be good for productivity and focus, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and performance.
Almost half of all long term sickness from work is due to mental health problems, yet there is still a stigma around it, and many people who are suffering still do not feel as though they can speak up about their issues.
One in four people will experience a mental health problem every year, and mental health can rear its head in the form of stress, anxiety, and panic attacks, causing or caused by workplace stress.
Are you stressed?
Early signs of stress include:
- Changes to your normal behaviour — such as eating and sleep habits;
- Feeling depressed or down and becoming increasingly emotional;
- Becoming withdrawn, nervous and demotivated;
- Feeling confused and disappointed with yourself.
If mental health issues are causing damage to your confidence, mind and body, and you are dreading work, there are several methods that may you to regain control and reduce your stress levels:
A problem shared is a problem halved
Quite often, simply talking about your mental health can help alleviate some of the pain you are experiencing, and it is often comforting to realise that your friends, family and colleagues have often experienced the same emotions and problems at some point, too.
Reaching out to co-workers may make you nervous, as you don’t want to appear weak or unprofessional, yet you probably spend more time with your colleagues than some of your friends, and if you are feeling low, it could make all of the difference to have a support system in work.
Often we do not need somebody to ‘fix’ our problems, just to listen to them, and if they can offer some advice then that is an added bonus.
Facing up to anxiety and how it makes you feel can be the first step in breaking the cycle of fear and insecurity, and talking about your stress and anxiety can help you take back control of your emotions.
Maintain a healthy work/life balance
The Corporate Executive Board, which represents 80% of the Fortune 500 companies, found that employees who believe that they have good work-life balance work 21% harder than those who don't.
All work and no play is not healthy, and will often lead to a total burnout - then what good will you be? It is important to find and maintain a good balance between home and work life, and make time for friends and family and enjoying your hobbies.
Delete your email application when you go on holiday, so the only passages you need to read are those from the book you have been too tired to read for months, with a cocktail in hand.
Eat well and exercise
Eating a healthy balanced diet provides you with all the nutrients you need to take part in your favourite sport or activity, and building up a sweat releases endorphins that are proven to increase our mood.
Unhealthy foods often lead to lethargic moods, and the temporary ‘feel good’ emotions are replaced by guilt and low energy.
How you treat your body also contributes to the health of your mind – so if you eat your fruit and veg, visit the gym from time to time, and divulge in some green exercise at the weekend, chances are you will begin to feel better about yourself.
It is easy, especially in an office setting, to neglect your physical health and to reach for that delicious looking muffin your co-worker baked the night before. Make time for regular exercise, and make smart choices about the foods you eat, and reap the benefits.
Be proactive about your role and duties
Whether you are overworked with too many responsibilities coming your way and not enough help, or are left to your own devices questioning your position in the company, everybody needs to know where they stand in the workplace for job satisfaction.
Maybe you have outgrown your current role, and are no longer receiving job satisfaction. You may be able to escape a monotonous role simply by having a conversation with your manager, and requesting a transfer, or extra duties.
Bottling up feelings of frustration and confusion is dangerous, so go out of your comfort zone and show that you care about your role and progress. It will impress leaders, and will be a weight off your shoulders.
Tackle your bad habits
If you spend too much time on social media, it could negatively impact your mental health. According to a recent study by UK disability charity Scope, of 1500 Facebook and Twitter users surveyed, 62 percent reported feeling inadequate and 60 percent reported feelings of jealousy from comparing themselves to other users.
People and celebrities often post their ‘best bits’ on social media, yet other see this as their whole, idealistic life, and let’s face it, if you’re feeling stressed out at work and you see Susan from school getting paid to do yoga in exotic destinations, it is unlikely to improve your mood.
Delete the Susan’s of your social media, or the applications altogether, and turn your phone off an hour or so before you sleep. Allowing yourself and your brain to rest before another day at work. Ideally, adults should get eight hours of rest to feel able to face the day.
If you are a serial snoozer, set your alarm ten minutes earlier, and give yourself more time in the morning and on your commute. Worrying about the possibility of being late is added and unnecessary stress.
Another habit common in mental health sufferers is seeing the negative in situations, and being overly self-critical. Nobody can be perfect all of the time, and trying to be is very stressful and unrealistic. Give yourself a pat on the back when you do something good, and try to see the positives in every situation.
What can employers do to help?
As well as reducing employee sickness, “promoting good workplace wellbeing makes business sense, as it drives staff engagement, morale, loyalty and productivity” said Emma Mamo from UK based mental health charity Mind.
A 2014 report by the UK government revealed that 70 million work days were lost in Britain during the previous year due to mental health, and this cost the country billions of pounds.
Employers could organise regular team building functions, to promote staff bonding, teambuilding, and perhaps tackle hidden frustrations and conflicts. Whether the sessions are purely social or are demanding on the body or mind, it shows that employees are valued as individuals and not simply numbers in an office.
As mentioned, employees often feel stressed due to uncertainty in their role and feeling underappreciated, therefore management should make a conscious effort to carry out appraisals when necessary, provide one-to-one meetings routinely, and ensure workers know that their progress is important, and they are valued.
There could also be flexible policies introduced to those who require it, and employers can put a framework in place where employees are able to approach the company for advice and support services where necessary.
A study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 89 percent of HR professionals reported an increase in employee retention simply by launching the implementation of flexible work arrangements.
From offering rewards and incentives for good work performance, clarifying expectations, and promoting communication, there are lots of ways to ensure that the workplace is as stress free and enjoyable as possible.
Perhaps you know that you simply need some time to yourself, therefore do whatever needs to be done. Your health is more important than that spreadsheet, and you won’t be gone forever.
If you are facing long hours, tight deadlines, uncertainty, or are feeling unable to cope, there are many great organisations available, such as Mind, Rethink, and Fit for Work, that support you in taking positive actions to improve your mental health.
David Lewis, managing director, integra people, warrington