The average person spends around 90,000 hours or one third of their life at work, so it’s important to ensure we’re in a healthy mindspace while there.
Maintaining positive mental health is critical to health and wellbeing. But it’s also important to our success at work and the success of our employers.
What is mental health?
Mental health is multi-faceted, and includes social, emotional, and psychological well-being. The concept of mental health is personal, and the tactics necessary to maintain a positive sense of mental health can differ from person to person. Many people find that their mental health needs change and evolve over time, so it’s important to regularly check in with yourself to ensure that you’re on the path to mental well-being.
Some people live with mental health disorders. These can range from mild to debilitating. Many people who are living with mental health issues are unaware that they’re dealing with something that could be at least somewhat alleviated with therapy and/or medications. People who have always lived with a mental health condition (especially those that often go unnoticed, such as anxiety or depression) may be surprised to learn that taking steps to support their mental health can go a long way in boosting their overall sense of happiness.
While some mental health conditions are brought on by biological factors, others occur due to a combination of environmental and situational factors.
Potential signs of a mental health issue can include:
- Struggling to muster up the energy to get through the day
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Feeling hopeless, or like life is pointless
- Severe mood swings
- Using illicit substances
- Feeling forgetful or confused
- Unexplained physical symptoms, such as gastrointestinal problems and joint pain
Why mental health in the workplace matters
Sadly, many people are all too aware that a poor work environment can negatively affect mental health. Some people experience mental health struggles due to difficult work schedules that don’t allow them to get the proper rest and social interaction they need to thrive. Others struggle with mental health from working in an overly critical environment where they feel as if they’re not able to live up to their potential.
Many of us are aware that individuals struggling with mental health issues are at greater risk for a variety of health conditions. But did you know they're also at greater risk for disability, unemployment, and underemployment. In fact, according to the CDC:
Poor mental health and stress can negatively affect:
- Job performance and productivity
- Engagement with one’s work
- Communication with coworkers
- Physical capability and daily functioning
But sometimes it can be difficult to focus on mental wellbeing at work because we’re focused on other things like daily tasks, conversations, and goals to hit. On the other hand, sometimes it’s difficult to focus on work if we're not making mental health a priority.
Often, a workplace that promotes a poor work environment has a downward spiral effect once employee mental health is negatively affected. People who are experiencing mental health issues may have a hard time giving their best, and may need to take time away from work to manage their mental health. Other people on the team may struggle to take on the workload of those who aren’t able to perform at a high level due to workplace-related mental health issues, which can cause a cascade of stress.
The bottom line: a positive culture in the workplace that supports mental health and overall well-being can go a long way in increasing employee satisfaction, keeping great employees on board, and boosting productivity. While it can be tough for supervisors to walk the line between being supportive and pushing employees to achieve, a balance must be found in order to develop a high-performing company that can stand the test of time.
The following tips can help you learn more about what benefits your company may offer, how you can make work more enjoyable, and how to move forward from an unhealthy work environment.
Maintaining good mental health can be tough to navigate, but with these small tips, you could improve your happiness in the workplace.
Educate Yourself on Workplace Benefits
When you first join a new company, there’s usually a short window for you to choose your benefits—things like health insurance, disability insurance and retirement contributions. Not all employers offer the same benefits, so make sure you have a clear understanding of what’s available to you. If you are unsure or have any questions, reach out to your Human Resources Department for guidance. You don’t have to go through this process alone.
If you miss the initial enrollment period, typically thirty to sixty days, don’t worry — there is a recurring open enrollment period once a year. Take advantage of the time you have between enrollment periods to educate yourself on the benefits your employer offers as it may be overwhelming to make those decisions initially.
After considering your employee benefits, start thinking about what else your company may offer. Things such as a work from home stipend, bonuses, or possibly paid meals. These are things your employer may provide that aren’t required, but can help increase your job satisfaction.
How to take care of yourself and make work more enjoyable
A big part of what determines your happiness in the workplace is how your coworkers and employers treat you as an individual.
A great workplace is one that’s encouraging and motivating, whether you’re doing a great job or struggling and need some support. Having peers you feel comfortable talking to can make or break your mental health.
Come up with some new ways to help you better connect with your coworkers. Consider taking the initiative to start something new. Maybe you don’t have any hangouts outside of scheduled meetings, and you feel it would help you grow your connections. Don’t be afraid to be the change you want to see in your place of work.
Along with having good relationships with coworkers, consider the other parts of your work that you find enjoyable. It all ties together, so if you love the work you do, but you just can’t connect with your peers, it could lead to you being unhappy. Maybe you really enjoy going to happy hours and hangouts with your coworkers, but you don’t truly love the work you do. Consider all the components that make up your work day and push yourself to weed out what might be making you unhappy and consider making a change.
If you find yourself struggling at work, but you’re not sure why, try reaching out to a coworker, manager, or HR for support. Sometimes talking your struggles out with someone is the best way to boost your mental health. More often than not, you might come to realize that others have been in your position before and can provide some guidance.
There are many ways to make work an enjoyable experience. You can positively change your mental health outside of work as well. Just as work can affect your personal life, your personal life can affect the way you work. Consider including more time for self-care into your routine.
While many people save self-care for outside of working hours, incorporating self-care concepts into your workday can help boost your productivity and support your mental health, even while you’re on the clock.
Some ways to improve your mental health while you’re at work can include:
- Get moving: Adding some movement to your work day can be helpful in getting your blood flowing and breaking up long hours. If your coworkers are also looking for ways to feel better at work, inviting them to walk with you over lunch or on breaks can both provide social interaction and help you get some fresh air. If your coworkers are not so inclined, enjoy a podcast, your favorite music, or a phone call with a friend when you get the chance to do a lap or two around the block.
- Address issues directly: Often, stress at work comes from uncertainty. If you’re concerned about your job performance, or whether you’re doing something correctly, facing the issue head-on can help relieve the anxiety that can come with wondering whether you’re meeting expectations. If you’re concerned about something at work, talk to the person who can help directly. If you need feedback on your performance, ask for it. Doing so can both reassure you that you’re moving in the right direction and provide you with valuable feedback on how you can do even better.
- Beautify your space: You likely spend at least a third of your weekday at work, and making the space look beautiful can make your cubicle or office a comfortable, relaxing space to enjoy. Adding a plant, a rock garden, or pictures of your family can help you to stay focused and centered even when things begin to get stressful.
- Try deep breathing and meditation: Sometimes, you aren’t able to get out of your work environment for a walk or otherwise take a break from the source of your stress. When things get tough and you have to see your way through, employing deep breathing techniques can help give you the stress relief you need to keep performing at a high level despite nerves, anxiety, and a seemingly endless to-do list. Practicing deep breathing techniques at home can help make it easier to turn to this stress management technique during hard times at work.
Healing From An Unhealthy Workplace
If you’ve experienced an unhealthy work environment, then you know what kind of toll it can take on your mental health.
Working a job you don’t love can lead to long, uneventful days and feelings of unfulfillment. If you can, try to find something about your job you enjoy. Sometimes, just shifting your perspective can make a huge difference.
But other times, the situation you’re in may not be so easy to control. A toxic work environment, for example, can lead to serious mental health concerns and affects entire teams or companies.
Once you realize you’re in an unhealthy work environment, reach out to any support options you may have, like a supportive manager or your HR department. If that doesn’t work, start taking steps to make a significant change.
If you decide to look for a new job, focus on a list of things you want out of a new role. It’s also a good idea to research a company before applying. You can even search for a career from some of the top rated best places to work.
Try to remember, not all companies are alike. When you move from one company to another, take what you learned from your previous role and apply it to your new position and company. If your past work made you unhappy due to the lack of communication, allow yourself in your new position to open up more about how you’re feeling with your manager. Most managers appreciate the transparency in order to better support you. You might even consider some at home therapy sessions to boost your confidence going forward.
Continue to focus on improving mental health
Taking time to better understand what things in your work environment are affecting your mental health is a great way to improve your mental wellbeing. Also, consider looking into things you can do to help increase your happiness within the workplace. Talking to others in your organization about their mental health in the workplace can also remind you that you aren’t alone, and can help you develop new ideas on how to care for yourself while working a stressful job.
Keep in mind that not all companies follow the same guidelines nor do they offer the same benefits. Find a place that best suits you, your needs, and your personality. Never settle for a place that continues to make you unhappy.
If you came from an unhealthy environment, learn what could help you reach a point of growth for the future. After all, you don't want to allow work to consume your mental health to a point that it starts affecting your personal life. Continue to put your mental health first in all aspects of your job - from the work itself to growing your connections with your fellow employees. Your mental health matters and should be prioritized in your place of work and at home.
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