Healthy minds, healthy workplace
SEPTEMBER is such an interesting time in our lives. We focus on getting students ready for their local schools or transport older students to their new post-high school institutions. Many parents are racing to register their children for swimming or dance classes and/or the many sports activities available within the city. At the same time, many employees as well as retirees are busy perusing college and university calendars for interesting courses. They are also reaching out to the community lifestyles calendars for hobby activities such as sewing, creative cooking, art or photography. Still others use this time of year to seek out volunteer opportunities to keep them occupied during the winter months.
However, the challenge for all of us is taking note of our own personal time and energy limitations. Our enthusiasm sometimes gets ahead of us and before you know it, we are overwhelmed. Just ask me. At one time, I was a member of so many committees that I had to leave early from one meeting in order to arrive late for my other meeting. Somehow, I convinced myself it was important to be at both. How silly!
What shocked me out of my presumptuous stupor was returning home one winter night to find my oldest son locked out of the house, stomping his feet in our garage and freezing his toes. Believe me; I vowed to never again think I was so important that I had to grace every meeting with my attendance. Although I certainly continue to stay busy, I’ve kept this promise to myself.
However, when people and employees in particular don’t pay attention to their own personal time, physical and mental limitations and over-commit themselves at work or in their private life, they set themselves up for total exhaustion and burnout. And by the way, while these are symptoms of a mental-health injury, neither of these conditions will be fully understood nor appreciated in the workplace. In fact, many leaders are pleased to see you work so very hard; they will praise you for it and give you more.
Organizational leaders are not responsible for, nor do they have any influence over, the stress caused by an employee’s outside commitments and few truly understand the value of ensuring a psychologically safe and healthy workplace and how it can contribute to employee productivity. In fact, the concept of a “mental injury” has really never been in our leadership vocabulary. Recently however, reports such as the Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey suggests that one in three Canadians are reporting mental-health issues such as a major depressive episode, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and abuse of/or dependence on alcohol, marijuana or other drugs at some point in their lifetimes.
So, like it or not, workplace leaders will indeed encounter and therefore need to deal with mental-health issues. How this can be accomplished is to create a workplace that contributes to healthy and productive employees. There are three avenues through which to influence the health and well-being of their employees. These include the physical environment, the organization culture and the availability of personal health resources.
In my mind, while each of these three factors consists of specific elements, the most difficult to develop, manage and sustain is the culture of the organization. In fact, the Canadian Mental Health Association suggests that organizational culture factors create two to three times the risk of injury, conflict, violence and mental illness among employees.