When we talk about mental health at work, it’s often to talk about strategies to manage yourself so you can continue being a productive and engaged employee. Take a mental health day! What is your morning routine – are you exercising regularly before work? Have you heard of work-life balance?
While strategies to manage your mental health during working hours can be incredibly helpful, we are doing ourselves a massive disservice by not acknowledging that the conversation can’t possibly stop there.
Most people spend over 60% of their waking hours at work. That is, well over half our lives are spent on work. In recent studies, employees reported work as the primary cause of their mental health problems or illness, with depression and anxiety noted as the top two issues. So, at a time when mental health problems are on the rise, why aren’t we doing more to figure out how to work in a less destructive way to our mental health?
After suffering my own burnout and mental health breakdown, I started thinking more deeply about this. I think we all feel it in our gut – the way we work is having a significant impact on our mental health. Most of us likely feel the mounting pressure at work to do more with less – to essentially do more than the job of one person. And most of us accept this as simply being the demands of today’s workforce – it is the price of having a good job. But the stress of it all is crushing our spirits and thinning our mental health.
In our rush towards innovation and global advancement, we’ve lost sight of the human aspects of work. And the biggest part of the missing puzzle is an accounting for mental health. We cannot put unrealistic demands on the human mind and spirit and expect it not to crumble. But that’s exactly what we’re doing. An individual’s mental health exists on a spectrum and can change depending on the conditions they face. Doesn’t it then follow that we should curate working conditions with mental health at the forefront?
For instance, consider how many hours most of us average a week. On paper, the traditional standard for full-time work means 35-40 hours a week. However, in the reality, demand or work culture often overwhelms our capacity in a way that forces us to work beyond those 40 hours. This is not even considering the fact that employers themselves have been entrusted with defining working hours. But a high and unrelenting workload is a proven direct risk to employees’ mental health.
It’s time that employers engage meaningfully in the mental health conversation. Not only is it the right thing to do as corporate citizens, but employers stand to benefit from participating in this discussion. The impact of mental health issues on employers is significant. When employees don’t feel well mentally, they tend to be more absent, less productive and overall less creative and engaged in their work. It’s time to start a deeper and more meaningful conversation about mental health at work, specifically highlighting the conditions that are most conducive to our mental health.