As I write this, on Friday 12th May – during ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ – there are thousands of people in workplaces across the UK, hanging on to the final vestiges of their sanity, as they complete the working week. Everyone looks forward to the weekend but for those with mental health issues, that feeling of holding it together all week is like holding back an ocean with a sieve. The attempt seems futile – but imperative – it’s that or drown.
Having read many articles on the subject of mental health in relation to the workplace, there are an abundance of statistics quoted, that are useful, to some extent, but these cold figures fail to express the feelings and inner turmoil that people experience when they are constantly on the precipice of ‘losing it’ whilst their bosses, colleagues or clients impatiently await results. There are feelings of being useless, inadequate, not up to the job, a sense of insignificance within the company, the feeling that the company, indeed the world, would be better off without them.
The only statistic I will quote is that around two thirds of the population will experience mental health issues at some time throughout their lives.
Just because someone has problems with mental health, doesn’t mean that they are not capable of being a valuable employee. Indeed, many people who suffer with low self-esteem (a common trait in those with depression) do so, partly because they impose ridiculously high standards upon themselves and have an overbearing sense that they are failing to achieve these impossibly high standards that they set for themselves.
The question is: how does society deal with poor mental health within the work environment?
We could just sign people off from work, which is often the case currently, but it’s a recognised fact that being busy and productive helps to give us a sense of well-being, purpose and self-worth. This is also an expensive option for the tax payer. Furthermore, gaps in employment on a CV don’t endear a potential employer to a candidate. So long periods of time off work would potentially hinder more than help in the long run.
We could legislate against employers, forcing them to allow those with mental health issues to take time out of work whenever they choose, without any consequence to themselves, be it financial or promotional. Whilst this seems an empathetic option, this would be expensive for employers and would be likely to create resentment among other employees and in reality, is untenable.
For me, as someone who has be plagued with depression and anxiety for around thirty five years, I feel that there needs to be a multi-faceted approach. There needs to be more compassion within the workplace with the provision of time and space for employees to remove themselves from the stress and to ground themselves.
My own experience has taught me (especially in the case of depression and anxiety) that well-being comes from within and we need to have a work environment, within which, such ‘self-healing’ and mood management is conducive.
This brings me to the title of this blog. Being Mindful …. We have doubtless all heard of mindfulness and whilst it isn’t a panacea for mental illness, if practised regularly, it can help to manage most metal health conditions, to some extent, at least. Not only that, everyone can benefit from more being self-aware and finding equilibrium to carry us calmly through our lives.
But how can this be effective and implemented within the workplace?
Companies have the opportunity to lead here by providing a quiet space within the office and guided mindfulness meditation audio tracks for employees to use, whenever they choose. Obviously, this is easier for large companies to implement, but if the desire to improve the well-being of your staff is important – and it should be – then a small change could potentially lead to happier staff and increased productivity.
Providing valued employees the autonomy to take ten minutes to refocus through a guided meditation, could bring massive advantage to any organisation and can help to reduce the amount of sick days taken by staff who would otherwise feel too daunted by the prospect of another anxious day at work.