Want a Happy Workplace? Mental Health needs to be a Priority.
As industrial production soared in the 1800s, requiring more resources, energy and labor, we bought into the trappings of materialism. The belief that more is better has dampened our imaginations. Today, we trade our well-being for material gain sometimes resulting in workplace injuries, harassment, cancers, dementia and various other ailments that appear after enduring stress and exposure. The economic inequality and chemical pollution in our bodies is in proportion to the environmental destruction brought about by our material trappings. These traumas take their toll over time.
Today, we have industrialized health care in order to perpetuate these lifestyles. We struggle to stay well just to work. Any similar approach to mental health will just lead to greater illness and disease. It is important to remember we are on a spiritual road trip and we need to maintain our mental and spiritual selves to navigate life or risk a great deal of unhappiness.
Governments prioritize economic development with little regard for psycho-social well-being. Many policies are devoted to wealth and job creation. It’s time for a ‘happiness’ index as a priority development indicator. How would that work? Some countries are already doing it. For example, take the Gross National Happiness index of Bhutan brought about to ensure a holistic approach to development. This ensures citizen well being is a priority in policy making.
Our rights to physical wellness, clean water, fresh air, good food, and exposure to nature must have a matching resolve to recognize mental wellness as equally important.
The Coming Mental Health Storm
Workplaces are important to us. We spend the majority of our waking hours trading our time (life) for money, thus we want to feel that there is more than obligation motivating us to perform our duties. Our mental health requires that we have autonomy, self-efficacy, recognition and satisfaction. We were already experiencing workplace dysfunction before, now, the pandemic has exacerbated any unfair or neglectful work practices and unsupportive cultures. Being left isolated and facilitating working relationships through online chat will only compound the issue unless we understand the mental health implications better. It needs to be talked through as a community.
“The results of a recent national survey … were disturbing but not unexpected: nearly half (48 per cent) of Canadians are very concerned about their mental health (e.g., stress, anxiety, etc.) due to the impact of COVID-19 — that’s 14.4 million Canadian adults experiencing mental health distress.” — Michael Lochran: The coming mental health storm (https://nationalpost.com/opinion/michael-lochran-the-coming-mental-health-storm/wcm/1935fc05-e6da-4d2a-9497-b7b331932265/)
Also, in a recent Hays study, there are two findings that highlight the coming mental health storm:
“43% of employees cited that their company has taken no measures to help support staff well-being as a result of the pandemic.”
And as highlighted by the Financial Post from the same study:
“Almost half (49 per cent) of Canadian employees are ready to walk out the door.” (https://financialpost.com/executive/executive-summary/posthaste-almost-half-of-canadian-employees-are-fed-up-and-ready-to-walk-out-the-door-and-thats-a-big-problem-for-bosses)
These are big implications for our society and economy. When half of the workforce indicate growing mental health issues and claim no supports while willing to take the risk of unemployment, we have a crisis.
Tackling the Problem is a Different kind of Reset
The first thing we need to do to propose a solution is to understand the problem. Little consideration has been given to mental health. Government policies continue to be focused on the politicization of crisis and protecting the largest asset owners. From elections to family dinners, everything is at stake, particularly for those who are most vulnerable. Stress about the future and current policies form hardships on everyone from new Canadians, renters, small businesses and those who may be further isolated, such as the elderly.
We are social creatures, more than we acknowledge. Care and nurture come from each of us, not from a phone screen, policy or bureaucrat. People have a social and psychic need to interact, not just with each other but with nature. Being isolated from social circles and nature ultimately leads to depression and anxiety — a feeling of disconnect. Perhaps you have seen many people walking more often than not among the trees or through parks. This is just one way we are coping.
The problem in a nutshell IS that we are disconnected. I wrote my books to bring awareness to our connections with each other and nature, something I believe is needed if we are to co-exist. Most of us may not even know that these vital connections are missing. Instead, our days are filled with the chimes of incoming texts, anxiety and social avoidance. Disconnect the internet and you will see a panic unlike anything you have ever seen — at least until we regain our sense of presence. However, the insecurity is killing us.
Any proposals from think tanks or echelons of government, such as ‘The Great Reset’, are empty promises doomed to perpetuate this intrinsic and spiritual void because they simply are not addressing it. We must recapture our humanity or fall against the well known ruling business triumvirate of the ‘dark triad’ — machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy.
The Changing Nature of Work
The idea of the workplace is changing. Telecommuting or working remotely is a necessary and a growing desirable option for many. Some are also calling for a final blow to the 5–2 chronic work week, adding that the rigidity and urban conditions no longer allow for quality of life under that social contract. Perhaps a 4–3 or a 3–4 that allows for apprenticeships and work experience for those wanting to enter the workforce. We can also stop clogging our urban travel arteries and commercial areas at a prescribed rush hour and on scheduled weekends. Of course, cost of food and living are considerations. No doubt we must look at sustainable options to make this happen.
Flexibility and autonomy are consistently in our happiness framework, without those, work stops becoming worth it and it shows in the research.
When we work with passion, inspiration strikes, great works can be produced. This is where solutions will be found.
When work makes us sick, it’s time to take stock of our priorities. Perhaps we can use this time to create a mental wellness work plan or institute more holidays, or shorter days. Perhaps we can bond with our family and neighbors in ways we have yet to explore. Let’s look at possibilities instead of lack of options.
Anxiety and depression directly correspond with an increase in harassment in the workplace, increases in drug and alcoholism, violence and suicide. As urban areas become more congested with unmitigated development, we can feel trapped by our surroundings. A workplace (or a workspace) can be designed to be a respite.
Daily commutes have been lessened by workplace closures and quarantines. Some are welcoming this new ability to work from home (a workspace). Yet, some still feel there is something missing. Many have said they would like to meet with their colleagues once or twice a week, indicating they miss that crucial social interaction — that connection.
At some point we have to bring a bit of security to the irregularity and uncertainty that is affecting our mental health. There is a difference between getting by and healing properly. Pills are fine to alleviate pain but they only cover symptoms. Technology can help you forget your anxiety, but it comes back once you are alone with your thoughts. Just as government priorities will not assist you in making diet choices or establishing good relationships , we have to assume our responsibility. If you don’t take care of your health, who will?
Begin the Healing
If I can offer a beginning to a healing journey, start with calming the racing thoughts by practicing mindfulness. Give social media a break. Turn off the news and feed your brain with proper nutrition and knowledge. Stretch and exercise. Work to master your hobbies to enter into a state of ‘flow’, a mental space where time stands still — like bliss.
Breathe deeply — most of us do shallow breathing indicating to the body a state of anxiety. Talk to people and open up to lessen the fear of isolation — you may find we are thinking the same things. And perhaps journal. Writing down your thoughts and intentions is a therapeutic way of getting to calm one’s self. Self-awareness and community are essential for support in times of need. Build this community at home and at work. It’s time we had that talk and we will be better for it.