Healthy minds, healthy work­place

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

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.

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