I caught up with a good friend of mine, Jen, after work one evening and I was surprised to see she was on crutches. She rolled her ankle pretty badly during a netball game, which put her out for the season. This didn’t get her down though. Jen is always upbeat and looks for the good in every situation. She said that since she started using crutches everybody has been so helpful. “A guy literally ran across the road to help me get out of a taxi. Then he held the door to the entrance open and made sure I got through alright. With a quick, ‘Everything okay?’, he went on his merry way!”
Similarly, I’ve been hobbling around a little after straining my Achilles recently…this wasn’t through netball, but through old age…and a colleague asked what was up. It immediately hit me that I’d much prefer to have a physical injury that can be perceived immediately rather than a mental illness, which can’t be. Physical injury or illness is much easier to talk about too. There’s rarely judgement associated with it, but mental illness is another kettle of fish entirely. It’s often not polite to bring it up because there’s a social stigma attached to it. A mental illness or mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety, can come in many forms and each type is on a continuum of severity. While it’s important to protect the dignity of someone struggling with an illness, it’s something that we should be talking about. Could you imagine breaking your leg, and not seeking professional help to get you back on your feet as quickly as possible? More so, because people don’t talk about it, we think we’re the only ones it’s happening to…that’s a pretty dark and lonely place to be in. Why else should we be talking about it? Because it’s becoming more and more common in society and our places of work.
Your mindset matters. It affects everything – from the business and investment decisions you make, to the way you raise your children, to your stress levels and overall well-being. ~ Peter Diamandis
To make a change, workplaces need to make a paradigm shift from ‘workplace safety’ to ‘workplace health’. We’ve changed how we’re working since the concept of workplace safety became an important topic. The nature of work, and the workforce, has changed from factory and site-based work, where physical injuries are more common, to knowledge-based work, where physical injuries are less common. However, with this change comes a new challenge to our health…stress, anxiety, depression, to name a few. Just because we can’t see these on the surface like we can a broken leg, doesn’t mean that a person isn’t struggling with an ‘injury’. The rate of depression in society has increased ten-fold since the sixties. This is a staggering increase! You might argue that this is due to better screening (you could also argue it’s because drugs became illegal!) but I don’t buy it. How we’re living is changing. How we’re working is changing. So to better protect the health of our people, we need to change what ‘health in the workplace’ means. So what can we practically do to make a change?
There is no health without mental health; mental health is too important to be left to the professionals alone, and mental health is everyone’s business. ~ Vikram Patel
Making changes to ensure a mentally healthy work place environment requires a different type of regulation but we don’t have to wait for the government to make the changes; making changes to the modes of operation and enforcement can be developed as part of an organisation culture. There are things we can look at that will have an immediate impact on your people’s mental health and performance. These include job design, social interaction, management practices, autonomy and participation into decisions that impact them. What about remuneration and performance recognition? These last two items, when coupled together, and if not at an acceptable level, are a heady cocktail for workplace stress. Lack of clarity around job description and role expectations can cause a lot of stress in people in the workplace. There is an argument that having a too-prescriptive job description can cripple creativity and impede employee performance. I agree, in this day and age, being fleet of foot is vital to survival but there is a middle ground…generally achieved through trust but that’s a discussion item for another time.
I’d be foolish to blindly suggest the changes that you can make to your organisation (or team) because every organisation has its own culture and its own way of doing things. Only you can know how to make the changes that will work best for your people. The outcome is a mental ‘healthier’ workplace. The guiding question is, “Is the change you’re making good for the company, good for your people, and good for your customers?” If the answer is, “Yes!” then what are you waiting for?
If you’d like to know more about overcoming stress or anxiety, or if you’d like to explore how coaching can help you become a better leader (of others or yourself!), or even if you’re just generally curious about what professional coaching can offer you, please contact us at any time for a free consultation.
Subscribe & Stay Informed
Best way to keep in touch with our latest news and updates.