Workaholic. Working from early hours of the morning right through until the late hours. Drinking multiple cups of coffee to get through the day. Staring at the glowing blue screen of your phone by night. Today’s post is all about finding work-related stress and mental health and our management of it.
According to UK’s Health and Safety Executive, in 2015/2016, 11.7 million days were lost due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression. Each case averaged 23.9 days [Work-related stress, anxiety and depression statistics in Great Britain 2016, HSE]. Each one of us experiences stress from time to time, and I personally feel not enough is being done around Britain’s workforces to make people aware of this very common but serious issue.
Thankfully, my workplace has been trying to raise awareness, particularly this week. I was very glad to see emails come through since last week raising the profile of mental health issues and how to deal with them, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. What I hope is that people may take the learnings and apply them or remember them beyond this one week. There were quizzes on how well you know mental illness, mindfulness courses and an Open University advertisement for a free course based on mental health to learn more.
One thing I think is absent from many workplaces is how to be a good people manager to those suffering from mental health issues. An important thing is not to mistake equality with treating everyone the same. Interestingly whilst reading up on some hospital trusts’ duties of care, I found it interesting that some said not to treat everyone the same. And they’re of course right. You should treat each individual fairly and should respect the ideals of equality, but the way in which you treat people needs to be tailored to the person’s individual needs.
People are not all the same. So management styles should not be treated like a one-size fits all. Because it isn’t. And I hear too often from friends or strangers that they either feel they cannot raise their mental health issues at work or that they’re told that they must keep their personal issues to outside of work. But we are a WHOLE person. We’re not half a person. Manager or not, I think our duty in the workplace to our fellow colleagues is to take more notice of how they are feeling. Sure there is work to be done – each workplace is a business. But to me, happy staff work best. It’s good for them if they are treated well and it’s good for the workforce. That doesn’t mean that you give people payrises and promotions every day to keep them happy; it means that you show that you care. For those who feel they can’t confide in their manager, I think it’s important to tell someone how you feel, whether it’s a colleague or the HR department who can help to support you.
A lot of guidance is given on how individuals should learn to cope with work-related stress, and that is very important. But I don’t want people to forget our duty to each other. If you think your job is to teach, market, serve, negotiate or whatever it may be, remember that your job (no matter what it is) may be different to your friend’s, but both involve working with people in some shape or form. I like to think that our jobs are just that – an occupation. Our real roles in life are to help and work with others.
As stress is often the main factor affecting everyone in a workplace, I wanted to share in the second half of this post a mechanism to help with your own stress awareness. I think it is important for each of us to have a log of a few key points/answers to questions. These will help place our priorities into perspective and open our awareness to how we experience work-related stress:
1) What makes me stressed?
2) How much is too much?
3) Does my stress affect other people around me?
4) What am I missing out on when I prioritise work above everything else?
5) Where in my body do I physically hold my stress?
6) Have there been times when I have felt physically ill due to stress?
7) How do I currently alleviate my stress?
8) What reminders do I place throughout the day to remind me to release my stress?
9) What boundaries can I put in place to better manage my stress?
10) What one thing can I change today to make my life less stressed?
Questions 1 and 2 help us to identify the cause and level of stress so that we can be aware of what we are tackling.
Questions 3 and 4 put our stress into the context of our social responsibility. Yes stress may be affecting us, but is it being projected and amplified onto others, thus negatively affecting their mental health?
Questions 5 and 6 make us aware that whilst stress can start off as a mental phenomena, it can cause physical illness. Think about the stereotype stressed, shouting, angry person who ended up having a heart attack. Yes it seems just a stereotype, but this is a reality. Some of us hold stress in our chest, others in their stomach and some in their heads, etc. Ever get so stressed that you had a headache?
Questions 7-10 prompt us to identify how we can improve our situation. I put question 8 in there because from my experience and observation, people need check-in points throughout a stressful period in order to de-stress. It should be something you frequently do within a day. Mine is getting a drink of water. Others use their loo breaks to remind themselves that they need to pause and not relentlessly plow on.
I hope today’s post has been useful. Work stress and mental health awareness in the workplace is something we can all work on together. We need to help ourselves, but also try to look out for warning signs in others. We can work as alarm systems for each other and ensure that we all keep our memtal health as good as it can be.