If you’ve held down a job long enough then you must’ve witnessed plenty of tears by now — tears of resentment, of anguish, and of (sometimes) joy.
But, in general, their appearance in the workplace is connected to a negative aspect of mental health. Employees could be struggling with anxiety, depression or chronic anxiety. Unlike physical ailments, demons of the mind are either elusive or can be easily explained away.
The tendency to hide or the reluctance to discuss mental illnesses is one of the key reasons why they don’t feature more prominently in workplace conversations. Make no mistake, the stigma surrounding them remains strong to this day, despite many individuals stepping forward to share their stories and several organizations gradually waking up to the responsibilities involved.
Thus, the onus falls on employers to foster a workplace environment that accepts mental health illness as a normal part of everyday life. Making the necessary physical and emotional support available helps employees feel like they are cocooned in a non-judgmental safe space, the creation of which is a first step towards improving mental health.
So, here are five ways in which employers can place the well-being of their employees at the forefront:
1. Reframe the Stigma
The most critical thing anyone can do to enhance mental health at work is reframe the stigma surrounding it. Instead of treating it as a mark of disgrace, reframe the discussion by treating it as just another valid human emotion. Tear down the walls of neatly segmented “acceptable emotions” and normalize the situations where all individuals require emotional support at certain difficult periods.
Nearly 500 million people worldwide are affected by some form of mental illness, but nearly two-thirds of them never seek to alleviate it or treat it. Rather, they hide that part of themselves and withhold — from themselves — the joy of leading fully-fledged lives. Thus, to normalize mental illness, any effort should start from the top of the pile.
Imagine the effect on a workforce when the organization’s CEO or CFO candidly speaks about their efforts to deal with mental illness on a regular basis, or when a manager writes a blog about the positive affect of therapy on their life and shares it with their team. Mental health will not be viewed as a shameful family outcast to be avoided but, instead, as a distant relative that one has to expend a little effort to understand and get along with.
2. Provide Resources
Once the conversational topic of mental health has been normalized, the next organic step for an organization to pursue is to provide the required resources to deal with illnesses. Whether they are digital stress reduction tools for meditation or online platforms for burnout reduction or internal health sessions, employers are ideally-placed to stage interventions and play a proactive role in enhancing the well-being of their employees.
3. Respect All Personalities
Every office contains a mix of personalities — introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts. While establishing a single set of rules for all might seem logical, the best organizations respect the preferences of each and every employee, and develop mechanisms that quench different needs.
For example, encourage introverts to interact by inviting them to optional informal group meetings or coffee chats. Extroverts love human interaction, so provide them opportunities to work in environments that are not strictly formal, like co-working spaces of coffee shops. The idea is to make employees, of any type, view the workplace as a safe and comfortable space, rather than as a dungeon in hell that has to be endured for eight hours, Monday to Friday.
4. Unleash the Power of Downtime
Every organization dreams of having employees that don’t take leaves. But even the best machines need some downtime for maintenance, and this takes on even greater urgency when it comes to vulnerable human beings. Ensuring that employees, especially those who are far too diligent when it comes to office attendance, take vacations and time-off at regular intervals is critical. Properly spaced downtime encourages individuals to switch-off from the daily grind and take stock of their well-being, maybe go for a preventive health check-up, or visit a therapist.
5. Vigilance for Signs of Burnout
Burnout is an uncontrollable beast. It can strike any individual, regardless of their job satisfaction or team support level. What makes it even worse is that it is one of the factors that could eventually lead to heart diseases, high cholesterol or even death. In order to combat it, employers cannot restrict preventive measures to just downtime and regular check-ups.
One measure worth exploring is the taking of compulsory sabbaticals after successful completion of a three-year stint at the company. Another could be to switch up roles and responsibilities, which will vary the demands placed on an individual on a regular basis. Such policies could go a long way in helping bring the best versions of employees to their respective organizations.