Sitting alone in her home office, Eleanor Moore stared blankly at her laptop screen. A number of spreadsheets were open in front of her, and work had been piling up over the past few weeks. The 32-year-old executive of a top law firm simply didn't have the energy to resume work. Eleanor was having frequent bouts of mild depression since she adopted hybrid work after the COVID-19 pandemic. The mother of two increasingly felt that she belonged neither to her workplace nor her home.
Eleanor isn't alone. Millions are affected by mental health illnesses every year. According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 22.8% (57.8 million people) of the US adult population experienced mental illness in 2021. During the same year, 5.5% (14.1 million people) of US adults experienced serious mental health issues. This represents one in every 20 adults. These staggering numbers reveal an increased need for employers to address mental health concerns in the workplace.
It's time to address mental health in the workplace.
It has only been within the past few years that employers have seriously started acknowledging workplace mental health challenges. In 2019, employers were just beginning to realize the existence of these challenges, the need to address the stigma, and the emerging connection with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The next two years were spent battling COVID-19 and adapting to the changing work environment. Though mental health resources were once considered just a “nice-to-have” support, addressing mental health concerns in the workplace has now become a true business imperative, as remote work is increasingly becoming more common than ever. Stakes rose higher in 2021, and there is now an increased awareness of workplace factors that contribute to poor mental health, along with the urgency around its intersections with DEI.
Common challenges that impact mental health
Whether you are working remotely or in an office, several factors can have a major impact on your mental health, including:
Long and inflexible hours, short staffing due to unfilled vacancies, or an ever-increasing workload
An uncooperative or toxic workplace that promotes friction, harassment, or bullying
Lack of guidance or training for the role you are expected to fulfill
Unclear or limited communication from the management about goals, tasks, or decision-making
Lack of support, unsafe working practices, or shortage of equipment or other job resources
Remote work and mental health challenges
The abrupt shift to the work from home (WFH) model when the pandemic started has been stressful for many employees. While most companies have now returned to an in-office work mode, many others are following a hybrid pattern. There's no denying the fact that remote workers like Eleanor may feel lonelier or as if they lack the support they need to succeed. The sudden lack of in-person connection has left her and many others all over the world with a feeling that they have nowhere to seek support when they feel anxious or stressed out. There's also the need to achieve a healthy work-life balance and that can contribute to an increase in workload. While there's the temptation to work for longer hours for those who don't have a proper home-office setup, there's no separating line between home and office life.
Overcoming mental health challenges
Caring for your mental health doesn't only mean dealing only with the immediate issues. It's also about promoting holistic well-being. Even if you are not facing any mental health challenge right now, taking steps to care for your emotional well-being will help build resilience and improve work performance.
Here are a few tips to help you overcome common mental health challenges in the workplace.
Switch off: Whether working remotely or from an office, it’s important to establish a healthy work-life balance. Take regular breaks throughout the day and switch off your screens when the work is over. Don't make yourself available 24/7 to respond to emails and phone calls. It is equally important to spend time with family and friends or simply relax and recharge.
Practice relaxation: This doesn’t mean stretching out on the couch and watching television. A jog in the morning, yoga, meditation, and even deep breathing goes a long way to reduce stress.
Healthy habits: Establishing and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits are the key to workplace well-being. Get enough sleep every night, eat a healthy and nutritious diet, and exercise regularly. These habits will have a huge positive impact on your mental health, both at work and beyond. The more care you take of yourself, the better you feel.
Connect and collaborate: All human beings crave connection. Developing a mutually supportive relationship with your coworkers, working as a team, and having fun together helps to ease stress and bolster your mood at work. Even if you are not close to your colleagues, try to pool resources on a project and work closer. Be more social in and out of the workplace.
Build resilience: The more resilient you are, the better position you are in to absorb stress and anxiety —the two biggest factors contributing to workplace mental health issues. Building resilience teaches you to learn from your failures and keeps you shielded from setbacks in your career or personal life. You can maintain a positive outlook on life. It's not about being a superhero; it’s about being compassionate with yourself and taking the opportunity to grow from setbacks. Building resilience requires time, effort, and compassion for yourself and others.
Talking to your employer
The emotional state of a worker undeniably impacts performance. You may decide to talk to your superior or team leader, particularly if the work environment is the source of the problem. Most of us, however, are reluctant to talk to others about our mental health issues. We often fear being negatively judged, or that our reputation will suffer. We fear being labeled as inadequate or unable to handle work stress.
More people are becoming increasingly aware of mental health challenges in the workplace. The stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to a spike in discussions involving mental health issues within and outside of the workplace. Thankfully, people have started realizing that sitting silently and feeling stressed out only adds to the problem. There's always someone present to lend you an ear and help you navigate mental health concerns that affect workplace happiness and employee success.