Stress, anxiety and depression are powerful words. They reﬂect the state of our mental health and increasingly pervade our vocabulary, especially at work.
According to UK mental health statistics, at least one in four of us suffer from these illnesses, with many claiming job pressures to be a direct cause.
How many of us have witnessed or contributed to coffee machine shares about high pressured working? When asking a colleague how they are, how often are you met with ‘I’m chasing my tail’ or ‘this is not sustainable’ responses?
According to Yoke’s research, ‘mental & emotional health’ is the number one area of wellbeing (across the seven sector framework) that employees expect and want help from their employers. Yet despite this call for action, a recent AXAPP healthcare report found that 69% of bosses don’t take mental health seriously. So much so that despite 25% of the workforce taking mental health leave, employers did not believe or support it as a valid reason for absence. This trend is worrying, but as MIND, the mental health charity responded, ‘not unexpected.’
This divide between individual’s needs and group action is reiterated at the national level. We are becoming increasingly immune to national reports of growing mental health concerns, with the most recent stating cases for young adults rising by 68% in the last 10 years (Adolescence Data). Simultaneously however, in the middle of March the BBC revealed that mental health services’ budgets had been cut by 8% (BBC March 2015).
So what can be done to bridge the void between mental health trends and what appears at the surface to be a lack of serious support?
In all walks of life, problem resolution comes through collaboration; the idea of working together to achieve a common cause is relevant in and outside of business.
STEP 1: Responsibility
It’s important to recognise that we all play a role in taking responsibility of our mental health. Employers and employees should acknowledge and attempt to break the silence on this often taboo subject.
Starting at an individual level we should take time to reﬂect if our level of mental agitation is tolerable. Many studies refer to the motivational side of stress, with an element of uncertainty being an effective source of energy that spurs us on towards our goals. However if we feel uncomfortable with the sustained levels of anxiety or stress it’s important to analyse why the worry persists.
According to Carnegie (1996), leading author of ‘How to Win Friends and Inﬂuence People,’ there are four basic steps that help identity the route cause of worry. After getting all the facts, write out: what the problem is; what are it’s causes; what are the possible solutions and what is the best solution? This process enables you to understand the particular internal or external triggers to your difﬁculties.
As an example you may suffer from persistent anxiety at work, directly relating to feeling unsettled about your end of year review. It is important to distinguish however if this worry is a result of your confusion over your organisation’s highly competitive performance review process, or if indeed if it stems from a deeper sense of self doubt that can be seen through many parts of your life.
Yoke’s research in the financial services identiﬁed a signiﬁcant correlation between the ‘mental & emotional health’ and ‘meaning & purpose’ domains with low self esteem and conﬁdence as speciﬁc triggers to stress and anxiety at work. It is important to understand this relationship in yourself so you can ﬁgure out how others, including your employer can help you.
STEP 2: Perspective
Once you’re clear about what is the root cause of your problem you can begin to slowly tackle it.
Again referring to Carnegie’s (1976) principles of ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,’ he states the ﬁrst rule as learning to live in ‘day-tight compartments.’ By focusing on one day at a time we maintain an element of perspective; as we pay attention to the present we concentrate on things that only concern the immediate future. This process is akin to mindfulness, which reﬂects the gentle process of being fully aware in the now, without letting thoughts of the future overwhelm us (Tich Naht Hahn). Although this may seem simple it is an incredibly challenging process, but if practiced can help to breakdown anxieties into time speciﬁc compartments that enable them to be resolved more easily.
STEP 3: Communication
The culture within which we work has a huge impact on our mental and emotional health. If we feel supported and valued by our team, we will learn to thrive.
At a recent ‘mindfulness at work’ event, we explored wellbeing frameworks that can be used as tools to facilitate successful conversations on the topic. Speciﬁc examples were also shared about integrating ‘mindfulness communication’ techniques into paired and team discussions, as a way of replicating Carnegie’s ‘day-tight compartment’ philosophy. In some instances respondents felt comfortable to share their personal motivations behind introducing the concept and in other examples they did not. Either way the practices here and in many other companies proved to be successful; with reports of greater focus and clarity; improved team work, and greater mental & emotional health all stemming from enhanced listening and abilities to being fully present in the moment.
With these three achievable steps mental health can be improved in the workplace. If we choose to collectively take responsibility; acknowledge that small steps are the right steps and be courageous to drive new ways of thinking into our daily routine, the mental health of you and your colleagues will improve. And as this get noticed, it will be interesting to watch how those around you, including your employers respond with positivity.!
If you’re interested in learning more about wellbeing and mindfulness at work programmes please join me at the Health at Work Summit 2015 in June.