Mental Health in the Workplace
By Rylie Holt
Workplace stress and the negative impact it has on mental health is a reality that every employer and employee lives with every day. Unfortunately, it often happens that neither is well informed of its implications and consequences. Although we have laws in place to protect people from occupational stress, they are usually not enforced, leading to situations where a person dealing with mental health issues is unable to verbalize their problems and has to suffer in silence. We need to do more to make the workplace healthier for all of us.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), workplace stress is a response to being presented with demands that go beyond the person’s knowledge and abilities, demands that challenge their ability to cope. This is typically caused by:
- Inadequate work organization
- Poor work design
- Poor management
- Inadequate working conditions
- Lack of support from supervisors and coworkers
Besides the risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders, workplace stress can lead to hypertension, diabetes and gastrointestinal disease. Companies need to acknowledge the link between stress and these disorders and empower their employees to maintain a good work-life balance. This can be a challenging task when confronted with deadlines, needing to maintain a competitive edge and sustain growth.
What Can Employers Do?
The World Health Organization has outlined the main factors that increase occupational stress among employees:
- Excessive workload
- Monotonous or unpleasant tasks
- Lack of recognition
- Role ambiguity or conflict
- Poor working conditions
- Poor interpersonal relationships
- Lack of oversight from management and poor communication
- Job demands competing with personal life
WHO also recommends a few strategies to mitigate these factors, such as:
- Learning about how workplace stress affects both productivity, as well as employee health. Data should be collected through the HR department to assess how prevalent these factors are in the company and the employees should be encouraged to give anonymous feedback regarding how these factors have impacted their job satisfaction, mental and physical well-being.
- Meetings should be held with all stakeholders to address these concerns and develop policies that protect employee health and adhere to the company’s vision and values.
- Once the policies have been developed, the management team has to develop strategies to make sure they’re successfully implemented. They need to determine budgetary allocations and the time it will take to enforce these policies. This should be a continuous process of collecting data and feedback to assess the results, and changing policies and/or strategies based on this feedback.
Governments play a vital role in developing regulations that protect the rights of workers and making sure these regulations are respected. Since there’s a stigma against employees dealing with mental health problems such as depression, they should be considered a vulnerable segment of the workforce, and special attention should be given to safeguarding their rights. Governments should keep track of which industry sectors and companies have the highest incidence of occupational stress and what strategies they use to address risk factors.
What Can Employees Do?
Ironically, stress can actually help you stay motivated and focused but only in a short time frame. Stress triggers the body’s flight-or-fight response which leads to chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline being released into the bloodstream. This heightens your senses and makes it easier to direct all your attention to your work tasks.
However, in the long run, the same chemicals will deplete the body’s resources and make you feel physically and mentally exhausted. In our modern world, the workplace seems to have become an emotional roller coaster with long hours, tight deadlines and demanding employers who make you feel inadequate, anxious and drained. When stress goes beyond your ability to cope, you find yourself mentally rejecting your job duties. Your brain is trying to protect you from the cause of your distress. You enter a vicious circle: the more you try to tell yourself you need to get something done, the more you’re increasing your stress levels, and your brain responds by shifting your attention elsewhere to reduce the psychological pain.
Faced with an unstable job market, many employees find themselves in a difficult situation and start to feel powerless. They’re afraid they’ll lose their job and won’t be able to find another one fast enough to avoid putting themselves and their families through serious financial constraints. If their company is reducing staff, they’ll increase their overtime to make up for the lost workers and convince their supervisors that they should stay. They feel like they’re expected to work at optimum levels all the time and that they have no control over how they’re supposed to complete their assignments.
You Need to Reach out and Talk to Someone
Sometimes the best way to manage stress is to talk to someone close to you. Being able to talk through your concerns and get empathy and support can go a long way in regaining your sense of calm.
Try to build friendships with at least some of your colleagues so you have someone there who can help buffer some of the adverse effects of stress. Perhaps they’re going through the same problems and together you’ll be able to convince your supervisors to implement changes that can reduce stress and increase job satisfaction.
Make Sure You Get Enough Sleep
You may feel like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. You spend more time at the office and you bring some of the workload home with you. This is another vicious circle. Without enough good quality sleep, your brain can’t get ready for the next day. You’ll work slower so you’ll need more time to complete your assignments so you’ll need to sacrifice even more sleep.
Maybe you go to bed at the right time but stress and anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep. In that case you try taking a hot bath about 90 minutes before bedtime. As your body’s core temperature drops, you’ll start to get sleepy. Don’t use your laptop or smartphone before going to sleep as the blue light emitted by the screen disrupts your circadian rhythm.
CBD based products can also help you calm down and fall asleep faster. Products like the CBD flower, oils and tinctures are extracted from hemp – a strain of Cannabis sativa with less than 0.3% THC – so you don’t have to worry about experiencing any of the psychoactive effect usually associated with THC.
Avoid Habits That Increase Workplace Stress
Aim to do your best but resist perfectionism. Your boss might have unrealistic expectations, but that doesn’t mean you should internalize their attitude and set yourself up for failure. It will not improve the quantity or quality of your work. It will just increase your stress levels and make you get tired more quickly.
Don’t let the criticism you receive either from your supervisors or colleagues push you into a self-defeating loop of negative thoughts. Pat yourself on the back even when no one else will.