“Our people are our greatest and most valued asset.”
As we head into mental health week today, and year two of a global pandemic, it’s time to have some important conversations and make crucial decisions about how to support both our own mental health and that of all our employees. This year, organizations are realizing the toll that the pandemic is taking on people in the workplace.
I like this definition from the UK Mental Health Foundation:
Mental health is the way we think and feel and our ability to deal with ups and downs.
When it comes to workplaces, mental health has three components: take care of yourself, help colleagues, and create a workplace that promotes mental wellness.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
First off, let’s dispel with the myth that heroics require keeping to yourself and ‘dealing with’ your problems alone. That’s completely false. True heroics means speaking up when you need help; when you’re not OK.
Ask for help. It can feel like the hardest thing you’ve ever done. It’s also the bravest. And it’s the only way to get better. We need connections and support!
Another action is to practice mindfulness: choosing to focus on your present situation and immediate task (no falling into thoughts about past mistakes or potential future problems). Mindfulness can happen at our desk, in the car, while walking. Focus on the here and now. Ground yourself in what your senses are gathering right now in this moment.
Practice lots of self-care, whatever that looks like for you. Talking with a friend, enjoying a quiet moment at a park bench, sleeping in on days off, and doing yoga are all good examples of self-care.
Distress is when someone isn’t coping for any reason. It doesn’t matter whether the source is the workplace, the pandemic, or a mental illness. Distressed people need someone to reach out to them.
Talk to your colleagues. Ask sincerely, “How are you doing?”. And listen carefully to them without judgment or seeking solutions. We’re all going through something right now, so listen with an open mind. Don’t assume someone is OK, or that you know what they’re going through. Ask. Whether you can relate to what they’re experiencing or not, listening will make a difference.
If you’re concerned, it’s OK to ask, “Have you had thoughts about suicide?” Talking to someone about this reduces the risk, and opens up an opportunity to get help—just like you’d ask someone showing symptoms of a heart attack if they were having trouble, and you’d call 911 to save their life.
If you suspect someone is in immediate danger of harming themselves, get help right away. Here are some resources available in our area:
- Call 811 at any time to speak with a health services navigator and connect with supports
- Call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) if you are considering suicide, or are concerned for someone
- Call 310-6789 for specific mental health supports
- Deaf and hard of hearing people can call 711 (TTY) or sign up at Video Relay for access through your MAC or PC and give them the number 604-215-5101 to get connected using a sign-language interpreter
- List of BC mental health supports
- Learn about mental health information and read helpful stories at Here to Help
When a colleague is returning to work, especially after taking time off to care for their mental health, connect in advance, and ask if you can do anything for them. Welcome them back on their return and ask again how you can help.
Offering Real Support as an Employer
We must offer real, tangible mental health supports within our workplaces. Start with leading by example. If you’re having mental health challenges, reach out and get support. Remember, everyone is struggling, including the CEO.
Make it clear that you want team members to share when they’re having struggles, and to ask for help. Listen. It may be directly related to workplace issues you can address that will improve things for the whole workplace. Or it may be something very personal. All help starts with asking and listening.
Highlight your policies against bullying and harassment, and take time this month to specifically share what isn’t acceptable in relation to mental health issues.
Allow for different working hours that accommodate medications/schedules/needs, and create space for employees to attend appointments. Continue to support work-from-home for those who work better from home, or (when permitted and safe) work in-office, depending on what best meets the employee’s needs.
Make sure everyone knows about the extended health benefits offered through workplace plans. This is a great month to point out coverage for counselling, fitness memberships, and massages so your employees can really make the most of what’s available.
Pay attention to drops in performance, keep an open mind (is it mental health related?). Again, asking “Are you OK?” is so important.
When members are off work for mental health reasons, ask what they’d like their colleagues to be told. Facilitate returns to work with communication and support, and consider phased returns to make the transition back to work as smooth as you can. Ask, ask, ask. Ask your employees, ask your HR experts how you can support your employees.
Remember that all changes can be challenging at the best of times, and it’s so much more so now.
Finally, make sure your leadership team knows that it’s part of their job to advocate for their employee’s mental health—it’s not the job of the employee with mental health issues.
Take care of yourself, look out for your colleagues, and create a mentally healthy workplace. To quote one of BC’s most famous phrases (and one I truly believe in), we will get through this.