The pressure of maintaining an idealistic version of yourself in your professional life at all times can be exhausting. Here’s how to talk about mental health at work.
“‘Emotional’ is just code for ‘I don’t want to hire this woman’“ – Sex and the City
Many moments throughout the iconic series of Sex and the City still resonate with us today, despite the decades that have passed. One particular topic that is still discussed around the brunch table is the problematic idea of discussing mental health at work. It seems that while the world outside of the office has become more fluent in the language of mental health, the pressure of maintaining an idealistic version of yourself within your professional life at all times still dominates a lot of us. Particularly, women.
The question is; how and when will the importance of mental health support finally reach the workplace?
Historically, the idea of being ‘emotional’ is associated with femininity. While this concept is outdated and built upon sexist beliefs, it still forces women to adopt an overtly tough and resilient appearance at work in order to be taken seriously. The shame that is associated with expressing emotions at work is not only unnatural, but it is unsustainable.
We are women, and we can be emotional, professional, expressive and impressive simultaneously.
Here are some simple ways that we can open up the conversation about mental health at work, and improve the wellbeing of your entire team.
While discussing mental health at work is important, the topic must be dealt with carefully. As employees, we tend to only show one dimension of ourselves to one another, and despite how well you think you know your work BFF, you might not be aware of some of the personal struggles going on in their lives. After all, do you share your most personal issues with your co-workers at all times? Probably not.
The safest way to bring up this discussion is by presenting a colleague with an example of how the team could support mental wellbeing, and try to sense their reaction. For example, “my friend works at a company where they all have access to counselling and therapy as part of their benefits package – what do you think of this idea?”. Try this tactic with a few of your closest co-workers first, and if they respond positively, you can discuss the topic more freely with them and try to draw out their opinion on the subject.
Finding effective ways to improve the wellbeing of individual members of a team has always been a struggle, and since a large proportion of us have left the office to work from home throughout the pandemic, our general wellbeing has taken a punch.
Suggesting ways to support your team in person, or virtually, with their mental health is essential to the overall culture of the company. If you want to think of some suggestions to bring up with your HR department, consider suggesting a team membership to a mental health app such as ‘Calm’ or ‘Headspace’, which can provide instant support to anyone in the company who may be suffering with anxiety, stress or depression. These apps are particularly effective if you’re trying to cope with working from home, as isolation can have a drastic impact upon mental health.
To go one step further, encouraging your company to provide their employees access to ‘Better Help’, an online counselling and therapy service, is an incredible way to improve the mental health of the team and to show employees that they are cared for. With qualified professionals and mental health experts at your fingertips, the support is instant and can be accessed much more quickly than face-to-face therapy.
Unless you’re in the HR department, it can be quite tricky to draw people’s attention towards the importance of mental health during a busy working day. The best way to do this is to find a time-efficient way to gather up everyone’s thoughts on the current quality of mental health support provided at the company, and to ask them to share their suggestions on what could be improved. This can be done through a short survey, which you can make yourself and send on to HR for them to circulate around the team.
You’ll be amazed at how much the general happiness of the team improves once they feel like they are being heard.
While some of us are fortunate enough to work for forward-thinking, empathetic employers who are up to date on the importance of the wellbeing of their employees, not all of us are so lucky. If the approach to managing mental health in your company is archaic, or even non-existent, don’t wait for the CEO to notice. While it’s not your job to fix this fundamental issue in the company by yourself, you should at least vocalise your concerns with your HR department or your manager.
That way, if you speak up and nothing changes, you can look for a job elsewhere with no regrets. Companies that continue to ignore the mental health crisis occurring within overworked employees are not built to survive – burnout culture is outdated, their structure is unsustainable, and if your efforts would be more valued somewhere else, don’t hesitate to move on.
Put your health first, and your paycheque second.