Mental Health at Work Pt.2: Breaking the Stigma & Creating Psychological Safety

May 19

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Numerous studies in the US, Canada and the UK point to one thing: a worldwide surge in mental health issues since the pandemic began over a year and a half ago. During Episode 12 of the Thriver Podcast, our VP of Marketing (with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology) discussed how psychological safety is crucial for an organization’s longevity, especially in the current climate. We’ve prepared today’s article based on her knowledge and experience. 

Supporting Mental Health at 3 Key Levels in the Workplace

The Organizational Level: Setting Up the Right Measures

Did you know that 38.6% of Canadian workers wouldn’t tell their current manager if they experienced mental health challenges? In 2019, 55% of American workers wouldn’t dare take a day off to address mental health issues. 

What does that say about most corporate cultures or employee perception of company leadership?

Organizations need to fight the stigma around mental health by making sure their workers feel that their environment is safe and non-judgmental, are comfortable talking about their struggles with supervisors, and can access the resources they need. Policies and procedures should include:

  • Manager training on emotional intelligence (i.e. active listening, empathy and self-awareness)
  • Discouraging authoritarian and dictatorship leadership styles
  • Benefits and work perks that support mental health (e.g. flexible hours, sick and personal days, gym memberships, subsidized therapy, etc.)
  • Frequently updated and widely circulated mental wellness resource lists 
  • Group activities to promote a happy, healthy workplace
  • Designing workspaces according to personality type and preferred working style

These types of initiatives certainly aren’t cheap, but consider this. A 2010 study estimated that Canadian businesses incur a $6.4 billion loss each year due to decreased productivity and absenteeism associated with mental health. More than a decade later, these costs aren’t going away. The conclusion? Investing in mental health is far from a waste of money.

The Team Level: Keeping an Eye Out for Struggling Coworkers

It’s not always easy to spot someone who’s having a hard time mentally and emotionally; figuring out how to support them may present an even greater challenge. So how can you proactively support your colleagues’ psychological well-being? 

First, avoid being part of the problem by:

  • Taking an active stance against toxic workplace culture (such as gossip)
  • Communicating with superiors if you observe harmful office politics
  • Encouraging more collaboration and less competition among team members

Then, if you notice a struggling coworker, simply show them kindness and compassion. You don’t have to talk about their problems if they don’t feel comfortable sharing. But little things like taking them for coffee, scheduling a Zoom meeting, or offering them an extra set of hands for an assignment can make them feel more encouraged and less alone.

The Individual Level: Practicing Self-Care and Maintaining Balance

Lastly, it’s important to remember that an organization is a living, breathing organism made from cells, organs, and limbs (a.k.a staff members like yourself). Taking care of yourself does everyone around you a favour. Protecting your mental health has many forms, but the simplest is small, daily self-care practices. Pick a handful of the following and make them a habit:

  • Seek out nutrition plans that boost brain and hormonal health
  • Take your lunch breaks, weekends and PTO
  • Schedule time for creativity
  • Cut back on screen time
  • Practice alone time to hear yourself think

Above all, communicate what YOU need for mental wellness at work. What are your hours? How should people approach you when they have questions? When is your email cut-off time? Have clear, reasonable boundaries and politely communicate them. 

Back to the Basics. Back to Being Human.

For some reason, societal norms often make us feel weird about bringing our humanity into the workplace. Of course, professionalism is a must at all times – but professionalism shouldn’t always equal stoicism. A thriving work culture embraces people at their best and also during times when they need support. Part of that includes removing the stigma around and raising safeguards to reinforce mental and emotional safety. 
If you missed it, be sure to check out Episode 12 of the Thriver Podcast to gain more insight about the points we covered today!

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