How can employers and colleagues support those struggling with poor mental health? Brenda Wright, PhD, Vice President (Behavioral Science) at INTERVENT International,1 looks at this topic of growing importance.
Mental health conditions in the workplace take a heavy toll on the entire workforce. Untreated issues can leave employees feeling lost, alone and disconnected. Because of the significant amount of time spent at work and the close working relationships that exist among co-workers, the workplace often provides a unique opportunity to recognise potential mental health problems early and provide assistance.
Before we look at how resilience, and support from colleagues and employers can help, let’s first look at some lesser recognised causes of mental health problems in the workplace.
Workplace issues that may go unnoticed
While not considered a mental illness, burnout can be considered a mental health issue. According to the Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research,2 burnout is having a growing impact on workplaces. Burnout is more likely when employees:
- expect too much of themselves
- never feel that the work they are doing is good enough
- feel inadequate or incompetent
- feel unappreciated for their work efforts
- have unreasonable demands placed upon them
- are in roles that are not a fit for their skills.
People could be dealing with burnout and not be aware of it. They might believe they are just struggling to keep up during stressful times and deny the problem. Stress is usually a feeling of urgency, while burnout is more commonly experienced as helplessness, hopelessness or apathy – more similar to depression on the continuum of feelings.
Some of the symptoms that may suggest burnout are:
- reduced efficiency and energy
- lowered levels of motivation
- increased errors
- increased frustration
- more time spent working with less being accomplished.
Bullying used to be an issue that mostly impacted children. That’s no longer true. More and more adults report experiencing mistreatment and hostility at work. Workplace bullying involves multiple, repeated, intentional acts of aggression, hostility, social isolation or disrespect.
These acts often happen in person but also can occur through email, text messaging and social media. Certain work environments are more likely to foster bullying, such as those with high stress, demanding workloads and those in which employees feel high levels of job insecurity or boredom. Many workers feel ashamed or embarrassed about being targets of workplace bullying and are afraid to report incidents.3 All this can lead to a negative impact on someone’s mental health.
How resilience can help people cope with mental health challenges
Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity. It’s often tested when stressful situations arise in everyday life, including at work, and when trauma or tragedy strike. Stress is not the only factor that can test a person’s resilience. However, how a person handles stress is a strong indicator of their ability to bounce back. Resilience is also a key element in wellbeing.
Benefits of a resilient workforce include greater job satisfaction and work happiness, organisational commitment and employee engagement. Building resilience contributes to employees’ improved self-esteem, greater sense of control over life events and improved interpersonal relationships with co-workers and others.4
Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves feelings, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone. Everyone could benefit from building resilience to help them cope in difficult situations.
How can colleagues help those suffering?
If you are concerned about a co-worker, use an approach such as NOTICE.TALK. ACT.TM to approach them.5
NOTICE. If you see a co-worker’s behaviour or performance changing over time, notice if the changes persist for two or more weeks, suggesting something more than just a bad day.
TALK. Find a quiet and private place to ask if they are ok. Expressing your concern demonstrates commitment to a healthy and safe work environment. When talking with a co-worker, provide specific examples of the behaviour that is worrying you. Be sure not to place judgement on the person. Don’t give advice. It’s best to assume you do not know what is happening and want to learn more from the person’s perspective. Remind the person that everyone has challenges from time to time when extra support could be helpful. Be a good listener and ask how you can help.
ACT. In addition to listening, try to connect the person with a source of care. If your employer provides an employee assistance programme (EAP), share information about how to connect to this confidential resource. Also, recommend that the person visit with his or her healthcare provider. If you are worried about the person’s immediate safety, do not leave them alone. Seek emergency assistance and stay until help arrives. Get back in touch with them in a day or so to see how things are going.
Remember that you are not a therapist. Make referrals to appropriate resources and just continue to be a concerned co-worker who is there for support.
What can managers and employers do?
- Review internal policies and procedures to ensure that issues that negatively impact employees’ mental health and wellbeing are addressed in a timely manner.
- Encourage employees to report any issues that they experience or observe. Ensure confidentiality.
- Provide a variety of resources to promote positive mental health and general wellbeing.
- Include employees in decisions regarding setting priorities and timelines as much as possible.
- Encourage employees to take breaks from work where appropriate.
- Focus on solutions rather than problems.
- Be positive and hopeful.
- Take care of yourself so that you can be a good role model and support others in your organisation.
Employers are increasingly recognising the need to find ways to promote positive mental health in the workplace. Digital healthcare providers like INTERVENT can supply an array of evidence-based programmes, services and health resources that address mental health, wellbeing, stress management and resilience. This can include:
- campaigns with toolkits and messaging
- online assessments and personalised reports
- online/digital self-help programs
- one-on-one “live” telehealth coaching
- group webinars.
These services compliment traditional EAP offerings by expanding access and engagement as well as facilitating appropriate EAP referrals.
Thanks, Dr Wright, for this fascinating look at mental health. If you want to find out more about digital mental health support, view INTERVENT’s page on our website or contact your MAXIS GBN representative.6
1 INTERVENT International LLC incorporated and registered in United States of America whose registered office is at 340 Eisenhower Drive, Building 1400, Suite 17, Savannah, GA 31406, United States of America
2 Brown LW, Quick JC, Environmental influences on individual burnout and a preventive approach for organizations. Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 2013, 18:104-121
3 American Psychiatric Association Foundation Center for Workplace Mental Health. Bullying. Available from: www.workplacementalhealth.org; accessed on 5-1-2020
4 American Psychiatric Association Foundation Center for Workplace Mental Health. Resilience: A Strong Workforce Needs It. Available from: www.workplacementalhealth.org; accessed on 5-1-2020
5 American Psychiatric Association Foundation Center for Workplace Mental Health. Know the Warning Signs. Available from: www.workplacementalhealth.org; accessed on 5-1-2020
6 MAXIS GBN may receive fees, commissions and/or other remuneration from third parties in connection with the services we carry out for you.
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