“LifeLines is a monthly column dedicated to addressing issues of mental, behavioural, and social health. The column appears monthly, and is written by professionals in the field of social work, mental health, and community medicine“.
The St. Kitts Mental Health Association (SKMHA) celebrates World Mental Health Day with the World Health Organization on Tuesday 10th October, 2017 with its theme of Mental Health in the Workplace. Mental health is all about balance- emotionally, financially, spiritually, physically and socially. Work – being one of the places we spend the most time -has a significant impact on the quality of this balance.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO),
“a negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity”.
While, many workplaces globally struggle with a negative work environments, both employees and employers can take steps to create a more positive atmosphere at work, which could then lead to improved morale and efficiency.
What Employees Can Do
SKMHA challenges us all to use positive communication in our dealings with our coworkers. Good communication skills and conflict management techniques can transform where we work. Using an assertive communication style – being calm, respectful, and confident – makes people more likely to listen to us and cooperate with us. We should also attend to our non-verbal communication/body language, which can speak volumes. Our working relationships are more likely to go smoothly if we minimize negative body language, such as heavy sighing and eye-rolling, and instead maintain good eye contact and neutral facial expressions.
When a conflict arises with a coworker, we can challenge ourselves to ‘take a moment’ and calm down. This may involve taking some deep breaths, asking to remove ourselves from the situation for a short time, or imagining ourselves somewhere more peaceful. Once a little calmer, we should do our best to listen to the other person’s perspective and ask questions;-try to really find out where s/he is coming from. When we have assertively expressed our opinions and also listened to the other person’s views, we should endeavour to come to an agreeable conclusion.
It is also crucial that we take care of ourselves. SKMHA wants us to practice self-care by:
- eating healthy meals and cutting back on junk food
- getting and staying active
- avoiding unnecessary stress
- practicing good time management
- setting aside personal time for relaxation/enjoyment
What Employers Can Do
Employers, managers & supervisors are charged with shaping workplace culture, and this culture has an impact on employee’s wellbeing and productivity, whether positively or negatively. There has to be an investment in the wellbeing and mental health of all workers for businesses to be successful.
A culture of ‘presenteeism’ (i.e having to come to work despite illness etc.), long hours, missed lunch breaks, and unreasonable deadlines raises stress levels in our employees and decreases the quality of work in the long-term. To encourage balance we need to first set a good example, instead- e.g work efficiently, take lunch/other breaks, and leave on time (or as close to time as possible), so that we can relax and recharge for the next day. Second, we need to be clear in our communication, flexible and reasonable when dealing with our employees.
On a larger scale, companies should strongly consider implementing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), or at the very least, elements of one. Regular information sessions by professionals on matters of mental health, such as stress, depression, and anxiety, do a lot to break the stigma around mental illness and increase the likelihood that employees will seek help if necessary. EAPs also have referral services, where workers whose problems need professional help can seek that assistance.
Both organizations and employees have an investment in each other’s mental health. By being a model of good mental health- e.g using positive communication skills and conflict resolution techniques, we are more likely to be both productive and efficient. By creating spaces for staff to learn about mental health issues and referring to professional services when necessary, we are showing empathy that will translate to more well- balanced and productive employees.
Zahra Jacobs, St. Kitts Mental Health Association