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We spend almost half of our waking hours at work (how's that for a depressing thought?) so if your workplace is stressful, or if it's full of bullies and harassers, your mental health can suffer. For World Mental Health Day, the World Health Organisation put this together so your employer knows how they can and why they should keep you mentally healthy.
This isn't a losing battle, either: work is actually good for mental health. If you have a shitty job, that might sound backward, but think about a job you've had (or one you've imagined) that is fun and fulfilling. A good job keeps your mind and body busy, gives you a chance to develop skills, and boosts your sense of identity and personal achievement, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
With work, you also increase your social connections and you earn money. This is all a recipe for good mental health. All your employer has to do is not fuck it up.
Not Putting Too Much Pressure on Workers
A World Health Organisation guide makes a crucial distinction between pressure and stress. Stress is what you feel; pressure is the demands that come from the job. In a shitty job, there's a ton of pressure and no way to deal with it. For example, hard deadlines and a ton of work that you can't possibly get done in time. To keep you from being stressed out all the time, the pressure should be matched to your abilities and resources. In a healthy workplace, there will be a way to delegate or share the work, or to soften the deadlines. And management will recognise that if there's too much work to be done, that's their problem, and not the fault of the workers who are just trying to keep up.
Stopping Bullies and Harassers
We're all supposed to be adults here. But sometimes a workplace can have Lord of the Flies level conflicts going on. To be clear: this is not ok. Your bosses might not realise it's happening, or they might be participating themselves: making sexist or racist comments, or giving you the worst jobs because they just don't like you. There is also a psychological phenomenon sometimes called mobbing, where a well-connected person can turn others' opinions against you.
Mobbing and bullying thrive where the culture allows it. The World Health Organisation has a handbook on how to spot and prevent workplace emotional abuse, and they note that it tends to happen when management uses discriminatory and fear-based tactics to keep the status quo, and encourages competition, deliberately or not. With that attitude in place, here's the recipe for backstabbing and bullying:
Chronic understaffing and heavy work constraints "create dissatisfaction, fatigue, and a feeling that it is impossible to change the work environment. Tension may be vented on colleagues, family, and friends."
Badly defined tasks or disorganized work "allow colleagues and superiors to take advantage of the situation."
Excessive hierarchy: "Mobbing is more frequent when the company's only reference value is hierarchy or where there are multiple chains of direction."
Insufficient instructions and lack of information that leave people clueless about how to do something, why they're doing it, and how much time they have.
Employers have the responsibility to set up the workplace so that none of this happens. Everything above is within their control: they can define tasks, keep workloads appropriate, and not give your boss more power than they actually need to get the job done.
Your company should also pay attention to whether harassment is happening, and nip it in the bud; just hoping that a workplace will be a friendly one is not an effective strategy.
Providing Mental Health Support, No Matter Where Your Problems Come From
Even the best workplace will have employees who have mental health issues. That's because a lot of human beings have mental health issues (19 per cent of us each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness). Your employer should help you to get the help you need, both because it's good for them to have happy, functional employees, and because duh of course.
An employer who cares about their workers' mental health should be doing things like:
- Preventing mental health issues in the first place, and recognising that it's important to do so.
- Offering help, even before employees ask. You shouldn't have to dig through the fine print in your employee handbook to find out whether you have an Employee Assistance Program that provides quick access to therapy, substance abuse treatment, and more.
- Offering an insurance plan with good enough coverage that you can afford to see a therapist, or get whatever treatment you need. Disability insurance can also help if you are unable to work, so a good disability plan is also important.
- Accommodating your needs before, after, and during a mental health crisis. Maybe you need an extra day off, or flexible work hours, or a quieter place to work.
As a cog in a corporate machine, you may not have a lot of power to change how your company handles mental health issues. But if you're a manager or somebody higher up, take a look at what you can implement, and bring the message to your higher-ups that mental health is important.