Every time that I read about mental health at the workplace and the article focuses only in depression or stress related to the job, I cringe. As a Mexican that has spent 2/3 of her career in the third world, I find that there is an excess of concern regarding depression and stress, and not enough in other malfunctions of teams and people. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada “in any given year, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness….Mental health problems related to the workplace include anxiety, depression and burnout.”
I find that we (HR and general population) need to differentiate mental problems. Feeling sad or demotivated is not being depressed, perhaps it may be dysthymia, but not depression. I have seen examples of these mental states and I’m puzzled to see that both are easily labeled as depression. Anxiety is common in this world of incertitude and we can (and should) learn to manage it if we are to survive as society. I cannot talk about the burnout as it doesn’t seem to exist in Latin America and I have never seen it or experienced it.
For sure some jobs are very stressful, but being really busy, having tight deadlines or having conflicts at work not necessarily makes a job stressful. Perhaps an employee is not skilled to deal with difficulties, but that doesn’t mean that the person (and the team) cannot learn how to do it.
Some companies have changed their paternalistic views to adapt to modern times, but they continue dis-empowering people by acting as if people are not able to deal with complexity, conflicts or even worse, not able to learn how to do it. But what I find more concerning is that, in general, organizations are just focused on the effects and not on the causes.
I’ve seen so many power struggles, battles of egos, unhealthy competition among teams and people, and meaningless activities in the workplace, that I wonder when we’ll start addressing these issues that cause on the mental health problems.
HOW TO IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE
Different studies mention that stress ( job insecurity, abusive supervision, excessive demands, etc), social isolation, lack of social support, the encroachment of work on family life, and domestic relationship problems contribute to mental health issues.
We need to avoid the stigma of mental health issues, but we cannot pretend they don’t exist. We need to give people the tools needed to cope with stress, if we want to have a successful team/organization. HR has the responsibility of helping people develop new skills, and one of them is how to work in harmony with the rest of the team. Some of the ways to create more civilized and harmonic workplaces are:
1. Promote collaboration: Creating a culture of collaboration reduces stress and social isolation. People learn to accept collaboration in their work and lives and become more involved in the organization, family and community. A person who is involved in any of these groups know that s/he is not alone.
2. Promote organizational values: When people (and especially executives) behave in congruence with the organization’s values, the morale of the team increases. The system regulates people’s behaviors reducing stress. There is a sense of unity to achieve goals, instead of internal competition.
3. Respect personal boundaries: Although people in general (at least in Quebec) respect work-life balance, we can forget easily that we need time to restore our energy. Being all the time available for phone calls, expecting people to change personal plans due to lack of organizational planning, and treating people in a disrespectful way, increases stress.
4. Have fun: Teams that have fun together deal with stress in a better way. We (HR) can promote team fun by relaxing the atmosphere in the company a little bit. A fun environment doesn’t have to be unproductive or unprofessional. Accept that happiness and performance are key for the organization’s success.
Some other interventions to improve the morale and engagement of the team are:
–Lunch&learns and all-hands meetings are a great time to promote a relaxed atmosphere.
-An appreciative inquire conversation will help to change the way we view things.
–Rewards and recognition programs, systems, events.
–Meaningful activities in each role.
-Follow the No-Asshole rule.
Do you have more ideas? please, add them in the comments.