Or Workplace mental health should be a top priority for all of us. It is crucial to our overall wellbeing because the majority of our time is spent at work. Here in this article, we aim to discuss what can hinder our mental health, what poor mental health looks like, and how you can help your own mental health, alongside getting help from your employer.
20% of Australians experience mental illness , so this should be taken into account for the workplace. These people need understanding and support. In order to work well, they need to feel safe and comfortable at work – we all do. Sadly, only around 52% of people feel their workplace is mentally healthy . This percentage is too low. Everyone should feel mentally healthy at work.
Here is how we can aim to be mentally healthy at work and what we need to consider in the workplace:
What affects our mental health at work
Perhaps the biggest cause for workplace stress and low mental health is being overworked. If you are someone who is consistently given more to do than you can handle, then you will see damaging affects to your mental health and wellbeing. We should never do more than we can handle. Stress is not good for us long-term. Stress is a natural part of a busy work environment or important job, but that doesn’t mean it should be something that you just accept as part of your life.
Too much stress can cause very serious health issues, never mind mental health issues. Severe stress can cause: depression, anxiety, memory loss, fatigue, muscle pains, migraines, loss of sleep, loss of appetite, loss of sex drive, high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, menstrual problems, eating disorders, and more. So, take stress very seriously.
Just like with school, the workplace can influence our social life and social identity. Having a place or position in the work environment helps us to feel comfort and like we belong. When we are on the outside and don’t fit in, we can feel social pressures. We can begin to question who we are and compare ourselves to the others on the “inside” of the circle.
Even adults can succumb to social pressures. They can either feel like they are different from others, and therefore feel badly about themselves; or they can feel pressured to do what others do, thus going against who they are and then feeling out of alignment with the Self. These social pressures very much exist in the workplace and we must be aware of this, so that we can ensure that we keep a sense of Self and don’t allow social pressures to harm our health.
You don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. The right people will enjoy you just as you are.
Banter, teasing, and joking can be an effective way to pass the time at work. Everyone needs a good laugh whilst they’re typing away all day, right? Not when it goes too far, though. Not only does there need to be a line drawn where professionalism is maintained, but there also needs to be a line for basic common decency and compassion.
Jokes can go too far. Jokes can hurt people’s feelings and strike a nerve. And you are very much allowed to say when this happens. You are allowed to say that something is offensive to you. You should speak up when a joke is taken too far. Sexual harassment or casual racism is not a joke. Report those who take things too far in the workplace and make you feel uncomfortable.
The ‘9 to 5’
The relentless routine of the 9 to 5 work schedule isn’t for everyone. The rise in freelancers and remote workers suggests that the modern age is bringing about a new way of working. The routine of 8 hours of work, 5 days a week just doesn’t seem like it is the most effective way to work for everyone. Some countries have 4-day work weeks. Some have siestas (breaks for resting or napping) in the middle of the day. These things can help with bettering the mental health of employees.
If the rat race isn’t for you, don’t worry; there’s other ways to work and make money in a way that suits you and is better for your health. Don’t let other people tell you how you are “supposed” to work. Don’t let others pressure you into a job or a work environment that doesn’t suit you and your needs. It is OK to work at your pace, where you feel comfortable, and in a way that supports good personal mental health for you.
A bad boss
Of course, a big cause for poor mental health in the workplace is a boss that you don’t like. Whether it’s a mean boss, a rude boss, an ignorant boss, a lazy boss, an overbearing boss, a strict boss, or a downright compassion-less boss, a bad boss really does affect how we work. They affect how we think and feel whilst at work every day.
A bad relationship with a boss can make going to work very difficult. It can cause anxiety and panic. It can make work life very stressful indeed. If you are having trouble with your boss, either speak to them about how they make you feel; or see another manager or person in a higher position about it; or speak to your HR (Human Resources) representative. You needn’t suffer in silence.
Lack of friendships and social support
No one wants to feel lonely. We all need people to help us get through this world we live in. Having no work friends, or at least acquaintances that you get along with, can make work a very lonely place to be. Time passes faster with friends. Breaktimes are more fun. Work events aren’t so dull. So, you should try, at least, to make some friends at work. Strike up a conversation and you never know, you might find your new best friend! We need all kinds of relationships in our lives to maintain a healthy mental state.
Unlike the intended joke, there are some who are downright bullies at work. Bullying can be verbal, physical, emotional, or cyber. Bullying doesn’t always seem obvious; it can be subtle. But if you or anyone else thinks that they might be bullied, you should speak to your boss or HR about it.
Bullying should never be tolerated. Just because we are all adults, in a professional work environment, it doesn’t mean bullying should be allowed or brushed under the rug. It is very much a real thing that needs to be quashed because allowing it to continue will severely harm your mental health and self-worth. Speak up; there are people there to help you. Your work life should not be made tough by someone else hurting your feelings, forcing you to do things, or making you feel anxious and ill at ease in the workplace.
Harassment should also never be tolerated. Any kind of harassment or fears should be communicated with your boss or HR immediately.
When we put in a lot of time and effort for our work, we want to be appreciated for it. We’re no longer children, who need praise for completed tasks and achievements. However, validation, appreciation, and a simple “that was great” can go a long way in improving our wellbeing and confidence. It needn’t be every day, but praise now and again can lift your spirits and keep you motivated.
Feeling unappreciated at work; feeling as though you are replaceable or unimportant can be detrimental to your mental health. If you feel like you are used and unappreciated, communicate this to your boss.
Working hard, going above and beyond for your company, and then not being paid suitably for it is a massive cause for stress, upset, and low self-esteem – all of which result in poor mental health in general. We all deserve to be paid and rewarded for our efforts. We should never be afraid to ask for our worth. If you feel that you are being underpaid for what you do at your job, or for how long you have been there, then speak up.
Ask to have a conversation with your boss and detail what you do and why you feel you deserve more. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, right? And at the end of the day, you are underselling yourself by allow it to carry on and it will only continue to lower your self-esteem as a result. If your boss isn’t willing to meet your requirements, look for a job elsewhere.
A large amount of us sit in offices and stare at screens all day. It is a normal part of our jobs to be looking at a computer screen for 7 hours. However, this is not at all healthy for our eyes, or our brains. Too much screen time can result in: disturbed sleep, tiredness, fatigue, headaches and migraines, poor eyesight, overstimulation, and more. All of these can affect our overall mental wellbeing.
We might not be able to help this, for we must do our jobs and they require computers in this modern age. However, you can help yourself out in other ways:
- Don’t spend time on your phone or computer on your breaks
- Get up and go for a walk outside on your breaks
- Take “eye breaks” where you look away from your computer for a few minutes regularly throughout the day
- Don’t go home after work and go straight back to screens: phones, TV, computers, tablets
Warning signs that your mental health is poor at work
How do we recognise whether we are suffering from poor mental health at work? Well, here’s a few warning signs of poor mental health to pay attention to and fix as soon as possible:
If you find yourself feeling overly tired every day before, during, and after work, then you may need to see your doctor. Tiredness doesn’t only occur from lack of sleep. Fatigue and feeling weak can come from our minds and bodies just being overused, malnourished, or stressed. Pay attention to your tiredness. Does it come from lack of sleep? If so, try to fix your sleeping pattern. Make it a priority. If not, then you should take some time to analyse the problem.
What may cause tiredness:
- Lack of vital vitamins and minerals
- Health problems
- Chronic pain
We can all be a little touchy or sensitive at times, but if you find yourself being irritable with people or situations often, then there may be a bigger problem. It’s not good to hurt other people with our poor moods and touchiness, and so you should try to sort out the problem. Ask yourself why you snapped at your friend; why you felt so annoyed by something a work colleague said or did.
When we aren’t happy within ourselves, or in this case specifically not happy at work, then we can become irritable. We snap because we are angry and upset inside. We snap because something isn’t right. You should make it a priority to find out what isn’t quite right and fix it as best you can.
Introversion is normal; shyness or quietness is normal, too. However, constantly isolating yourself and being alone for most of the day can be a big warning sign that your mental health isn’t strong at the moment. With mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, we can withdraw into ourselves. We get sucked into our own minds and feel trapped there.
If you find yourself wanting to be alone all the time, especially if this is out of character for you, then speak to your doctor. Speak to your family or a trusted friend. Again, ask yourself why you feel the need to withdraw yourself from people. As we said before, having friends or at least someone to chat to at work can really help the day go faster, and so it is not encouraged to isolate yourself in life and definitely not at work.
Just like irritability, if you find yourself genuinely angry many times throughout your week, it is a sign of poor mental health. A well mind doesn’t get angry very easily. A well mind won’t let trivial things cause them to snap, yell, scream, punch, or break things. If you are noticing that you are angry, and have a short-temper lately, then it is a sign that something isn’t right.
When you are angry next, take a deep breath and ask yourself if there is really any real reason for your anger. Perhaps get a journal or a piece of paper and write down your answers. See what comes up and analyse them. You will probably find that something else entirely is wrong that has been boiling up under the surface and manifesting as anger in everyday things. You can be annoyed by a missed email or a long phone call, but genuine anger should not be your go-to emotion.
Anxiety before or during work
Those who suffer from an anxiety disorder may find that they are generally anxiety before, during, or after work. However, if you haven’t been diagnosed with anxiety, but you find yourself feeling anxious around work, you should question this.
Anxiety feels like:
- A tight chest
- Fast heartrate
- Sweating excessively
- Laboured breath
- Weak bladder
- Irritated bowels
- Biting lip or nails
- Many thoughts at once
- Inability to focus
- Panic or fear
If you are experiencing any or all of the reactions above around worktime, then you need to take some time to consider why. Why are you anxious? Have you always been anxious or is this new? Is the feeling brought on by a certain situation or person? Perhaps it’s the environment you work in? Is it the people you work with? Or it may be the workload and pressure? Every situation is different, but try to identify exactly what it is that’s affecting you.
If the symptoms continues, visit your doctor for guidance.
It is never a good idea to avoid tasks at work. You will fall behind and let your boss down. If you are someone who is usually on top of things, but lately you’ve been avoiding tasks and procrastinating, then it could be a sign of a decline in your mental wellbeing.
When we are tired, stressed, anxious, depressed, worried, or low, we can often procrastinate. We put off responsibilities because we don’t feel strong enough or up to the task. A strong, well mind is organised and fighting fit to get things done. So, if you find yourself constantly putting things off, then it may be a sign that something is wrong.
Feeling sad about work
There will always be days when we don’t feel like going to work and so we cross our fingers for a snow day! However, if you are often feeling sad about having to go to work, then this isn’t good. That is no way to live. We spend the majority of our time working, so if you are sad about work, then you will be sad the majority of the time.
As we say, infrequent down days are very common. If you notice that these sad days are becoming frequent, and overwhelmingly so, then something needs to change.
Are you unhappy at work? Are you unhappy in life in general? Is work no longer fulfilling you? Is it someone or something specific at work that is making you feel low?
Find these answers, get support, and fix the issue; don’t let it continue as if it is normal.
How to care for your mental health at work
So, at this point, if you have surmised that you have low mental health at work during the week and you would like to fix it, here are some tricks for looking after your mental wellbeing at work:
Get enough sleep
It will always be imperative to get enough sleep. It’s hard to be up to the day ahead when you feel tired right from the beginning. Start the work day right by feeling refreshed and like new. In our sleep, our brains get time to relax and repair along with our bodies. This means that sleep is ever so important for good mental health.
If you are struggling with your sleep, then go to see your doctor. They will be able to advise you on best sleep practices.
Poor sleep can result from:
- Too much stimulation at night time: TV, exercise, caffeine, screens (phones)
- Heavy food before bed or being hungry before bed
- Too much light in your room
- Heat in your room
- Noise in your room
- Not relaxing before sleep; good ideas are: reading, a bath, sleep yoga, meditation etc.
- Depression or anxiety
- Low activity throughout the day
So, it is important to check on your sleep hygiene and habits. If you can fix your sleep pattern, then do. If you feel like the sleep is a bigger problem that you can’t fix, then see your doctor.
Eat well in the day
Just like with sleep, if we don’t eat well during the day at work, then we will not have the energy to combat the tasks of the day. Healthy eating has a strong link to good mental health. Nutrition is not only important for our bodies, but for our brains and our minds, too. If you want to have strong mental health and be mentally fit for work, then you need to be mindful about what you put into your body on a daily basis.
Treats on occasion are fine, but don’t constantly snack on sugary treats and drinks whilst at work. You will crash and feel tired, not to mention gain weight and feel sluggish. Do yourself a favour and reach for the apple before the cake. It is also important to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Tiredness and low moods can come from dehydration and lack of nutrition.
Get outside on breaks
Being stuck indoors in the same space in the same chair for 8 hours a day is not healthy. You will be jeopardising your mental health if you confine yourself to your chair for that length of time. Instead, break up your day. If you only get one break a day, then use that break to the fullest. Go for a walk, preferably outside. Get some fresh air and stretch your legs.
The simple act of changing environment and getting fresh air can do wonders for our minds. It will relax us, re-energise us, wake us up, and give us a dose of dopamine and/or endorphins which will help us to feel good.
Speak to your colleagues
As we mentioned above, you should try not to isolate yourself and be quiet all day at work. We all need to concentrate to get the work done, but some innocent chitchat while working can be pivotal for our health. Now, we don’t want you to turn into the office gossip, but having someone to talk to about concerns, about life, about work, about the boss (we won’t tell), or anything else can be relaxing.
Talking about topics we enjoy makes us feel good and nowhere is it written in the rules that we aren’t allowed to feel good and have fun at work.
Express concerns to your boss
If you are suffering at work with any of the things mentioned above, then you should try to communicate this to your boss. Your boss has a duty to keep you safe and healthy. Your wellbeing is important because an ill employee can’t do their job as well as a well employee, can they? So, it is in their best interest to help and support you to getting well within yourself again.
It might be hard to explain, but you should try if you truly feel like you are suffering and especially if it is affecting your performance at work.
Enjoy leisure time
Many workplaces offer additional benefits such as work parties, gym memberships, lounge rooms, game rooms, televisions, radios, books, and more. Take advantage of these things to help make work less…well…work! There’s nothing wrong with a short break for coffee. There’s nothing wrong with watching the television for a minute or jiggling along to the radio.
Whenever you get leisure time, soak it up and take it easy. Don’t be so hard on yourself; you deserve a breather and a break, not to mention the fact that your mind needs it.
Stretch and stand
As aforementioned, being glued to the same chair for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week is not good for you at all. Not only should you go for walks on your breaks, you should also try to stand and stretch periodically throughout the day. It is not good for our spines or general health to be sat down for that long. It also makes us feel more tired and irritable to do so. So, get up, stand tall, stretch, and then get back to work. It only takes a minute, but it can really work wonders for your mental and physical health.
Listen to music or podcasts
While you work, entertain yourself. It is perfectly OK to listen to music or a podcast or whatever else while you work, as long as it doesn’t affect your performance too much. Music is known to lift our moods and get our dopamine going, so it is an important part of feeling happy and relaxed at work.
How employers can improve the mental health of their employees
It is not just the employee themselves that can do things to better their mental health; it also falls on the employer to ensure that their staff are well. Here are somethings that employers can do to better the mental health of their employees:
Open door policy
Don’t shut out your employees. They need you, even more so when they are going through periods of poor mental health. If you have an employee that suffers from a lasting mental illness, then you should definitely ensure that they know you are there for them if and when they need you.
In general, though, a good manager will be available to their employees. They need to know that they can come to you with problems and concerns. Be friendly, compassionate, and understanding of the fact that they are human beings and you have a duty to protect their wellbeing.
Employ a counsellor or mental health first aider
This will not be appropriate or possible for all workplaces, but a great idea for big corporations is to hire a counsellor or mental health first aider who is either on-site or can be called whenever they’re needed. This is the perfect way to show your employees that their mental health matters. Just like having a gym at work to help encourage physical fitness, having a counsellor can help to encourage mental fitness.
This can be a person that your staff can go to when they feel low or stressed. They can go to them to seek guidance and understanding. If not a counsellor or first aider, then at least someone who employees know they can go to for anything to do with their mental wellbeing.
Another great idea is to provide access to classes, such as yoga or meditation. Basically, the best thing that you can do is actively show your employees that their mental wellbeing matters to you, and that your workplace encourages mental wellness as a whole.
Don’t give too much work to one person
Sometimes work doesn’t get distributed evenly, however, as a manager you need to ensure that the right workloads are given. Don’t let all the slack fall on one individual. Take the time to plan properly and proportionately. The workload should be fair. Also, take time to speak to your employees now and again to ensure that they are doing well at work and are dealing well with the workload they are given.
Organise team building activities
Team building activities might not be for everyone, but those who like a good event or activity will enjoy the bonding time outside of work with their colleagues. It can boost team morale and make them a stronger unit.
Inside the workplace, it’s hard to relax and be completely yourself because you want to maintain professionalism; but out having fun at an event means the team can relax a little and let their hair down. They will enjoy having fun, learning new things about one another, and feeling like their workplace isn’t perhaps as bad as they may have thought – which can improve the work environment and relieve stress.
Don’t pressure employees
We all know that deadlines and clients exist, thus creating time-sensitive tasks. However, putting unnecessary added pressure on your employees will only stress them out and harm their mental health. You have a business to run, yes, and you have every right to ensure it runs smoothly. But you will be a bad boss if you are hurting your employees when you needn’t.
Instead of getting at them for incomplete tasks, ask them how other members of the team can help or see whether they were given too much to do in a short space of time in the first place. Be fair; be understanding. Get to know your employees because incomplete work may mean that there’s something going on with them that you don’t know about, thus affecting their work.
Have a relaxed work environment
Again, we know there needs to be a certain level of professionalism at work but having an atmosphere that is a little more relaxed can do wonders for your employees’ mental health. If they are constantly going to work and feeling pressured, rigid, bored, or restricted, then they won’t feel like themselves. They’ll soon feel resentment towards work and not want to be there, resulting in a poor work performance.
Remember that your staff are people, not tools for the running of your business. Treat them as such and allow them to talk and laugh and take breaks and sing along to the radio!
Windows and light in the office
An important element of good workplace mental health is having natural lighting and fresh air. Your employees may have to work inside all day, but they shouldn’t be cut off from the natural world. Ensure there’s plenty of windows, a good view outside, and fresh air inside the office. Also, ensure they are comfortable and well accommodated for throughout the day so that the office becomes more of a healthy environment and almost like a second home.
Allow for appropriate breaks
Do not restrict breaktimes. All employees should get at least an hour break every day by law. This means that you should never jeopardise this breaktime with meetings or work-related matters. That time is theirs to do with what they wish. It is their free time; their resting period. It is harmful to their mental health for them to never have a real break from work. Also, if you see an employee constantly working through their break, encourage them to stop.
Better your own understanding of mental health issues
Lastly, it will go a long way if you, as their manager, has a good understanding of mental health as a whole. As someone who oversees several people, real people, it is important for you to understand what is good for them. It is important to know what might be harmful for their mental wellbeing and how you (and the workplace in general) may affect it.
Read up on mental health and definitely on mental illness, so that if you have an employee with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, autism, schizophrenia, an eating disorder, or the like, then you will be able to be understanding, accommodating, and kind when it comes to their needs.
There are many ways that employees and employers can make sure that the wellbeing and mental health of every person in the workplace is sound and secure. By considering the things mentioned in this article, you can care for your mental wellbeing and keep thriving and enjoying work. This is not only important, but a priority. Being well at work should be important to all of us, so please take the time to implement the advice in this article.