Creating an Empowering Work Environment for Those Living with Mental Health Conditions
I’ve written about protecting your mental health at work; this is more of a proactive measure on behalf of an employee. I also want to talk about how businesses can develop measures to help those employees with mental health conditions. Creating a safe, open work environment will help your business as your employees will be empowered and overall happier.
I’ve worked for nonprofits, startups, and established businesses. Each work environment had its pros and cons, some were welcoming, while others were cold. Some were liberal with their time off policy, while others questioned any time taken off. Throughout the years, I’ve left a few jobs because my mental health suffered. I had less than ideal supervisors who micromanaged, worked in open concepts where I lost focus every time someone answered the phone and office politics all too often became too much. During those different jobs never once did I feel comfortable telling my supervisor or HR I missed work due to a panic episode or debilitating anxiety.
I understand we are not there culturally or socially to openly talking about mental health at a job, but there are a few things HR departments and bosses can do to help those living with different mental health conditions.
If your business has the capability for employees to work from home; give them the ability to choose their work schedule. For some, it may be a mixture of remote and office work, all remote work, or alternative hours.
I’ve worked for 100% remote companies and businesses that don’t have a remote policy. I took off more time with the companies that had no remote option. Over the years, I’ve learned I am more comfortable working out of my home. I can control the room temperature, have access to healthy, fresh food, and don’t have to deal with daily office banter/politics. Also, working from home allows those living with a mental health condition to manage better as our home is a safe place for many of us.
Mental Health Days:
In your welcome packet from HR, make it a point to note personal days can be used as mental health day. Mental health days are also beneficial to those who don’t live with mental health conditions. At the end of the day, we’re all human and can burn out.
Working through your lunch break is often applauded, but it doesn't benefit your employee’s mental health. Working 8+ hours without a break for days, weeks and months can send anyone into chronic stress.
A boss can encourage breaks by showing their employees they take a break. Often, employees follow the culture of their boss and if they see their boss isn't taking a break, they may opt to work through a break.
Create an environment where employees feel safe:
The reality is, we are afraid to talk about our mental health conditions at work for fear of shame or being fired. An important first step towards creating a safe working environment is to give employees the opportunity to discuss matters with HR, personal and work related. This does not mean employees should treat HR as their therapist, more so letting HR in on what is going on in your life and how it may impact your work.
There were so many time I wish I could have gone to HR or my supervisor and been like hey, I know I’ve been out sick a lot lately and here's why.
“I’ve experienced a high level of stress lately, and anxiety is something I am navigating daily. I’ve been unable to leave my house as my panic is so severe. I am working on managing my symptoms.”
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a society where talking about mental health at work is acceptable. We can speak about a family death or the stomach bug, but not anxiety or depression. I hope in the coming year's workplaces will become more accepting to those living with mental health conditions and not continue to perpetuate the stigma and shame many of us live with.