When I worked as a nurse in a mental health area, the reaction when asked in a social setting what I did was interesting and varied. Admittedly my experiences are some 30 years ago and hopefully our attitudes have matured. Most reactions fell into two categories:
1.Shocked silence while they thought about how to respond. I don’t think they knew what to say and were worried about getting it wrong - I’m sure this group also wondered if I would analyse their response.
2.Fascination, often slightly macabre including questions about electric shock therapy. This group often had their own foibles, relationship issues and stories they wanted to share.
Thinking about today’s environment I still believe there are many organisations who would like to be more supportive, but simply don’t know what to say or do. This group are also made nervous by the potential of having to do something they’re not comfortable with, such as providing counselling or sharing their own issues.
So, here are a few simple steps you can start with, see how it goes, perhaps lay the foundation of doing more in the future if this goes well. But first - some key ideas:
Wellness rather than illness. The aim is to support the workplace being mentally healthy - it’s not focused on mental health conditions such psychosis and schizophrenia.
You’re not always one or the other. See being mentally healthy as a continuum in which you move one way or another on a day to day basis.
This is a workplace issue. The idea that workers are there to work and anything else going on with them has nothing to do with work, is an idea which is outdated and wrong. A person’s workplace has a major impact on their lives and their lives have a major impact on their work.
A common mistake is to imagine all sorts of unrealistic expectations and then argue its too much. The answer is to talk to workers, find out what the issues are, and then discuss realistic meaningful things that would really make a difference. I think that’s the answer – workers know the problems and often have a pretty good idea about how to solve them. You just need to find an effective way of asking and listen to the answers. Start with the simple things, such as:
At a staff meeting, talk about issues relating to a Mentally Healthy Workplace and what this means for your business.
Develop a company policy or statement of worker rights.
Undertake a worker survey – find out about what makes workers feel anxious, ask about bullying behaviour.
Clearly state your own personal views about the sort of company you want to be – leadership is important.
Organise training from a reputable provider – consider using organisations in your community to talk about what they do.
Discuss options for an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
Avid Sims are currently working with a client company to develop a Mentally Healthy Workplace video to be included as part of the induction process. Workers talk about the way company operates, about what is ok, and what isn’t, and ways to get help. Keen to know more? Contact us at Avid Plus at firstname.lastname@example.org.