Everyone has mental health, all day, every day. The state of our mental wellbeing affects how we feel, react to problems and cope with the challenges we face on a day-to-day basis. Since we spend plenty of our time at work - somewhere in the region of 84,000 hours over the course of our lifetimes - prioritising mental health in the workplace is a must. Fortunately, the importance of good mental health both within and outside of the office is now recognised by many employers, and a growing number of organisations are hiring wellbeing leads and developing mental health strategies. However, achieving mental wellbeing for everyone in a diverse environment such as the workplace is not always simple.
While the conversation around mental health in the workplace has historically focussed on stress, anxiety and depression, we must remember that mental health is just as diverse and vibrant as any other part of our lives, changing over time and in response to our environment. It’s a complex phenomenon involving all aspects of our lives from personal relationships to sleep and body image. If we have good mental health, then we are in a state of wellbeing in which we can realise our potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and make a contribution to our community.
Supporting this journey of understanding and mastering mental wellbeing from the position of a Chief Executive, HR Director or Wellbeing Lead is consequently a significant challenge. Some colleagues might require support dealing with issues like social anxiety or OCD while others might want to focus on relaxation, building resilience or nurturing friendships. A general topic such as coping with stress or managing burnout may feel more applicable to the workforce as a whole, but to create a healthy ecosystem, greater breadth and depth is needed.
It’s also important to recognise that the mental state we bring to our workplace is not only dependent on the experiences we encounter there. An argument with one’s partner the day before, a crowded morning commute after a sleepless night or even just tolerating several days of rain can influence our mood, productivity and attitude at work. In addition, in this era of globalisation when many people are working in international environments, culture needs to be accounted for too. It is a known fact that mental health is experienced and perceived very differently depending on individual differences such as ethnicity, age or gender.
Consequently, we need to take a holistic approach when it comes to mental health at work:
- First of all, consider a wide range of topics that might apply to different life stages and situations. Keep in mind the entire spectrum of mental health, and acknowledge that every individual on that continuum will have a different perspective.
- Secondly, offer various channels of delivery from digital content through group presentations to individual conversations. This will allow employees to choose the most convenient way of championing their mental health.
- Thirdly, provide more than one scientific approach since not all techniques will be suitable for everyone. For example, while one person might benefit from practising mindfulness to alleviate stress, another might benefit from the principles behind positive psychology or cognitive behavioural therapy.
- Finally, communicate openly and celebrate differences. Whether your role is CEO or a junior employee be courageous and share your needs, be thoughtful in trying to understand others and be conscious that mental wellbeing is a rich and beautiful spectrum that means something different to everyone.