Good news! A new era for normalising the stigma around mental health has arrived. It's about time. Mental health in the workplace is top of mind for everyone, and there has never been a better time to discuss it. That's especially true if you live in South Africa since October has been declared Mental Health Awareness Month.
For decades, it was frowned upon to talk about mental health. Why? It's because people didn’t grasp and understand the concept. In some cultures, mental health is seen as taboo or a sign of weakness when you ask for help. Then there is the fact that many confuse the term with mental illness when that isn't true.
Society has us feel ashamed, isolated and abandoned when we want to open up about our well-being. Not anymore! Asking for help and opening up to a professional or someone you trust shows you taking ownership of your well-being and is a sign of your inner strength.
Since our understanding of mental health at work is constantly changing, it's worth looking at the basics. Supporting mental health in the workplace is no longer a nice to have but a necessity. The first step is to create wellness solutions to help our colleagues thrive at DotActiv. We are also here to talk about mental health in the workplace and everything that comes with that.
What is mental health?
It’s no secret that work-related risk factors can negatively affect your mental health. Before we dive into our workplace suggestions to combat these factors, let’s explore the exact meaning of mental health.
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables you to cope with the stresses of life, realise your abilities, learn and work well and contribute to your community. In short, it affects how you think, feel and act and is an integral component that helps you to make decisions and build relationships.
At this point, it's also critical to show the difference between mental health and mental illness.
You might experience poor mental health without having an illness. You could attribute that to external factors such as trauma, loss or something else. On the contrary, you might be ill but experience good mental health.
From my experience, mental health and human performance are not separate but two parts of the same equation. Combined, they are what make us flourish. It's also critical to note that an imbalance on either side can have disastrous effects.
Working from home vs. working at the office
The COVID-19 pandemic kickstarted a concept that not many of us had ever considered possible - working from the comfort of our homes. As more people started working from home, we experimented with new ways to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
With this abrupt change to how we worked, it became clear that we needed to be careful about the challenge of "blurred boundaries". Like many of our colleagues, we were in the same position, searching for the best possible solution so we could deliver quality work to our clients without burning out.
Yes, the rush to give everyone access to all the tools they need to work from home was sudden for many. However, after settling in, what quickly became apparent was that you could be productive and focused when not in the office. You can even argue that working from home can make you more productive.
Here are the main benefits of working from home:
Spending less time on the road, which creates a cleaner environment: According to Global Workplace Analytics, converting all United States citizens to “half-time telecommuting” could reduce U.S. carbon emissions by over 51 million metric tons a year;
- Greater productivity;
- Flexibility: The pandemic has shown us how valuable time with loved ones and family is, and we can't take it for granted. By working remotely, many have been able to spend quality time with them, and it's not easy to give up; and
Improved inclusivity: Remote work enables companies to embrace diversity and inclusion by hiring people from different geographical and cultural backgrounds, which brings different perspectives and can lead to better businesses.
Of course, we can't ignore that working from the office instead is what you might prefer. You might still struggle with this new normal. Lacking designated home office spaces, you might have had to create improvised work setups in living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms or wherever there was space.
Here are some of the reasons for working from the office:
It creates a sense of belonging;
It keeps home life and office life separate;
You get to unplug from work;
There is better communication and interaction with colleagues; and
It can help improve networking and collaboration.
It is critical to look at both sides so you can provide stability and support to each other at work. While there is no exact solution on how to maintain your work-life balance, we do make an effort to assist you in becoming the best version of yourself.
How can you overcome job burnout?
Burnout is more than just feeling tired at work. It is an emotional, mental and physical reaction to constant stress. There is no doubt that burnout is the ultimate thief of energy and productivity and may spread into your personal life. That's why it's critical to guard against it at all costs.
Let’s take a look at the effects that work burnout can have on your mental health:
Poor decision making;
Lack of motivation; and
Pessimistic lookout on life.
You might be wondering what causes burnout. Every situation is different, and work burnout can be because of one reason or a combination of reasons.
Just as we pointed out the difference between mental health and illness, it's worth pointing out the difference between stress and burnout.
You can suffer from job burnout when you experience stress that never seems to stop. But, stress is its own ball game. Stress is characterised by feelings of "too much". With stress, you might think you can get things under control if you work harder. When burnt out, you’ll feel like it’s never enough. You might start to feel hopeless or lack emotion.
Burnout is due to prolonged stress, and you might not realise it sneaking up on you until it's too late.
Here are a few ways to improve your mental health and avoid burnout:
Know when to ask for help: Reach out to a close friend, family member or colleague. Don’t assume you’re burdening others - many are flattered that you trust them enough to talk. They might be experiencing the same thing as you. When in doubt, or you have no one to reach out to, our HR department is a safe space for you to unwind and talk about your concerns.
- Set healthy boundaries;
Get creative: Try a new hobby or pick up an old one. Creativity is a powerful force against work or job burnout;
Take that coffee/tea break: Relaxing in between a busy schedule is often what you might need to gain a new perspective;
Make new friends: Easier said than done for some, but meeting new people can take your mind off work and expand your social circle; and
Cut down contact with negative people: When you suspect you're close to burnout, the last thing you need is more negativity. In such a situation, engage and surround yourself with uplifting and positive people.
How does DotActiv support your mental health journey?
It is time to face reality. Not many undeveloped countries take mental health seriously enough, including South Africa.
In 2020, South Africa ranked 103 out of 149 countries on the Happiness Index, a measure of population well-being derived from six factors: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, personal freedom, the goodwill of others, and trust in government.
Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has also taken its toll on mental health, and the happiness index of many countries worsened. While social cohesion is protective, people with pre-existing mental health conditions are the loneliest and face a greater risk of experiencing severe symptoms and poor recovery.
At DotActiv, while an overwhelming majority of our colleagues consist of women, it’s vital to improve too. We're an advocate for addressing the unfair misconception that "men aren't allowed to show their emotions" or "act tough". Such viewpoints must change.
And to be honest, we can only be productive and deliver quality services to our clients when everyone is in a good mental state.
So, how do we proactively support this? How do we assist all our colleagues equally to ensure they become the best versions of themselves?
- By creating a safe space for our colleagues
We want to cultivate an environment where we can trust each other and seek help when needed. We, therefore, encourage you to let someone know when you are struggling or having a bad day. It can be during a catch-up with a colleague, a check-in meeting with your manager, or even someone from the HR department.
- Model healthy behaviours
Model it so that your team members feel they can prioritise self-care and set boundaries. In many cases, managers are so focused on their team’s well-being and getting the work done that they forget to take care of themselves.
Share that you’re taking a walk in the middle of the day, having a therapy appointment or prioritising a staycation (and turning off your work/email notifications) so you don’t burn out.
- Building a culture of connection through check-ins
Intentionally checking in with each of your direct reports regularly is more critical than ever. That was important but often underutilised in pre-pandemic days. With so many people working from home today, it can be harder to notice the signs that someone is struggling.
The key is to know and spot any early warning signs that someone is struggling. It could range from arriving late, seeming stressed, avoiding social activities or having trouble concentrating.
- Invest in mental health awareness training
As more and more people struggle with mental health, it’s important to debunk common myths, reduce the stigma, and build the necessary skills to have productive conversations about mental health at work.
- Our policy and commitment to improving your well-being
DotActiv has made it a top priority to ensure your well-being is taken care of, especially when you're struggling. By implementing this policy (available on our Insiderbase) our colleagues know how and where to seek help and assistance.
- Professional support resources
We need to be clear. Some issues are far beyond our expertise.
It's why DotActiv has partnered with a professional support resource that provides you with access to professional assistance at no additional cost. Not only do we encourage you to take care of your well-being regularly, but when you need counseling or therapy conducted by professionals, we want this to be available at your convenience.
- Allow everyone to be themselves
Work is a large part of who we are. It reflects our choices, our passion and our ambitions. Thus it seems contradictory that many are worried about being themselves when at work. While it’s important to stay professional, if you feel comfortable being yourself, you are likely to be happier and, as a result, be more productive.
Unlocking the key to becoming your best self is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
It's why these words resonate so well with me: “Mental health is not a destination; it's how you take control of the steering wheel, driving and arriving towards that destination that matters.” Whether you feel you will arrive late or early, know that you will arrive just in time.
So go out there, be part of the solution, reach out to a friend or a colleague, break that stigma, be vulnerable, spread awareness, enjoy the journey, be yourself and be kind to yourself as well as to others!
Are you interested in joining the DotActiv and providing category management solutions to retailers and suppliers from across the world? We’d love to hear from you. You can read up about DotActiv, what we stand for and how we operate here or browse through our open positions here.