Updated: Sep 29, 2021
The pandemic has shifted the nature of most workplaces. It has changed the face of how working spaces operate and it has been challenging for people to adapt to these changes while also taking care of how it impacts their mental health.
“Hi Sir, I'm sending this email to inform you that I can't come to the office today. I've been feeling under the weather since last night”
“Hi ma'am, I may not be able to turn in the report by this week since I am down with food poisoning.”
“I am doing really unwell today -I am running a fever since yesterday and would be unavailable to take the call”
How many times have we written emails and messages like these to our supervisors , managers and the HR?
How many times have we really meant it when we said we are running a fever or we have caught a cold?
Let's take a look at another set of examples and reflect how many times we have written emails and messages like that.
“Hi ma'am, I have been feeling really overwhelmed and stressed due to the increased workload in the past couple of weeks. I would like to take a day off to rest and recoup my energy since I have been feeling burnt out lately.”
“Hi sir, I have been going through some difficult things on the personal front and am not able to focus on work due to the same reason, would it be okay if I take an off to attend to the other commitments since it has been getting difficult to manage work alongside.”
This doesn’t sound too familiar to me. If it sounds familiar to you, congratulations on having a workspace which allows you to open up about how you are truly feeling and not hide it under the garb of a physical illness.
The amount of time we spend at our workplaces constitutes almost half of our day (even more, for some people). The interactions we have in our workplace constitute a major chunk of our social life and we invest a lot of time and energy on a daily basis in our workplaces. Having a workplace that is sensitive to your mental health concerns and takes care of your well being instead of being detrimental to it is paramount in having a well functioning life.
The pandemic has shifted the nature of most workplaces. It has changed the face of how working spaces operate and it has been challenging for people to adapt to these changes while also taking care of how it impacts their mental health. One would assume that in the middle of so much uncertainty and instability the pressure to perform, produce and work would come down and people will be more accepting of taking pauses and breaks than ever before. However, that is not the picture that came up in the middle of the pandemic. Spending more time indoors is equated to having more “free time” in hand which results in the pressure to be productive. Most workplaces where employees are working from home struggle with being able to formulate a structure for their employees where they are able to strike a work life balance. For most people who are working from home the boundaries between work and personal life are enmeshed.
“I don't even have to leave my bed to join my morning call - I sleep with my laptop by my side and turn it on the first thing in the morning after getting up. Earlier when I used to go to the office I would work out and eat breakfast before leaving for work. Now I don’t because my work starts as soon as I get up - I sleep with my work.”
Ankan (name changed), a 24 year old client shared this in a session.**
It is not uncommon for people to struggle with drawing boundaries between their work and personal life. However, the onus of maintaining this balance should not be completely on the employees. What are organizations doing differently to care for the mental health of their employees? What structural changes are companies making to cater to the well being of their employees who have been working for endless hours from their homes? These are the questions that we need to ask. Most workplaces are not a conducive space to have conversations around mental health but this can change. Workplaces can be open to and sensitized to take care of their employees’ mental health. Let's take a look at how we can start conversations around mental health in workplaces -
1. Ask and listen
How many of us actually have non- work conversations with our colleagues? How many of us check up on our co-workers and how they are doing? With the increasing social distancing it has become even more difficult to do that. Asking people around how they are doing - not as a ceremonial greeting but to actually check up on them can go a long way in terms of starting conversations around mental health. Once you initiate that conversation, make sure that you are asking to listen and understand and not to respond. When people feel heard and understood - they open up.
2. Conducting sensitization workshops around mental health
A lot of workplaces are pretty active in terms of conducting seminars, workshops and activities for their employees. It is seen as a welcome break from the monotony of the usual work. These spaces can be utilized to have a conversation around mental health - focusing especially on the aspects of de stigmatizing mental health concerns by discussing the following -
Identifying the signs of someone struggling with their mental health
How to support someone who is struggling?
Resources we can connect someone who needs support, with
Using sensitive language and terminology for mental illnesses and mental health related concerns
Psycho-education about concerns like anxiety, stress, depression
3. Structural changes on the managerial level
There is a lot that can be done on the managerial level to make a difference in terms of how the workspace views and treats mental health. A few examples of the same would be - Revising the leave policies. Do your sick leaves include mental health offs? Can employees take breaks and pauses if they have been overworking or are burnt out? These are important questions managers and companies can ask themselves if they are aspiring to be more sensitive to mental health. Quite a lot of organizations reward employees based on their performances. Review and performance appraisal lead to bonuses, appreciation or even awards in certain cases. The reward system is helpful in keeping employees motivated, committed and efficient, however, it is also important to take a step back and ask this question “What are we rewarding?” “Are we rewarding good performance and dedication or are we rewarding burnout and overworking?” The hustle culture has most of us trapped in a cycle of doing more and more everyday because we never feel enough. If we work for 10 hours a day - there’s always someone working for 14 who might get the reward both of us are competing for. Organizational spaces can make sure that instead of pitching employees against each other they are appreciated and rewarded for their unique contributions. No two employees operate from the same mental and physical capacity to work but the pressure to one up the other can lead to severe burnout and more mental health related concerns.
A healthy employee is a company’s asset. If workplaces start focusing more on taking care of their employee’s well being, not only will it make a difference in the individual’s health but it will add to the workplace’s efficiency and performance. As an individual working in a company on a subordinate level you have as much if not more power than your manager to start conversations around mental health. Keep asking questions, keep questioning the status quo and most importantly - check in on your co-workers because you never know who is struggling and may need to talk.
**The client’s excerpt has been used in the article with the client’s consent. Their name has been changed to maintain confidentiality and protect privacy. Client confidentiality is the requirement that therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and most other mental health professionals protect their client’s privacy by not revealing the conte