The workplace is one of the most diverse environments you will ever find and is one that encompasses a variety of races, gender, ethnic groups, age, personality and more. Finding balance starts with respect and the appreciation for these differences. But how does management deal with differences that are not physically or obviously visible like in the case of mental illness, one that already has such negative stigma attached to it?
“Employers who understand the link between employee well-being and organizational performance are best positioned for success in the economic recovery.” David W. Ballard, PsyD., MBA, says.
It Starts With By Creating a Stigma-Free Environment
The key to finding that balance starts with education. It is important that employers create a workplace environment that is free of stigma, discrimination, or reprisal and that is only achieved by educating management and employees. Many people are not aware of the different mental health disorders and what each one entails.
The word Mental Illness usually leaves people envisioning individuals that are unstable, violent, and dangerous or having no control of their behavior or actions. This could not be further from the truth. The reference of Mental Illness is a general term that refers to a group of illnesses. These include the most common being bipolar, depression and anxiety. Mental illness is a health issue that does not discriminate and one that can strike anyone at any time. It is a fact that no matter which industry you find yourself in, there is a fairly good chance that you’ll have a colleague suffering from a mental illness.
Dr. Gail Saltz once said, “Given identity is tied to work, being recognized and appreciated makes employees feel valued and boosts sense of self and self-esteem, which is protective in terms of depression and anxiety.”
Understanding and knowledge are essential in creating a stigma-free environment. This can be achieved through education and training of line managers to help them understand the conditions, how they can identify issues associated with these conditions and what they can do to support the employee as well as create an environment of respect and acceptance.
Dealing with Mental Health in the Workplace Is a Team Effort
Working together is the key to ensuring that both employers and employees can cope with mental illness in the workplace and ultimately create a healthy, productive work environment. It is a task best achieved through teamwork and is the first step in creating a supportive culture that encourages openness, understanding, acceptance, and compassion and most importantly, an environment free of discrimination.
“Employees who work in strength-based organizations stay with their company longer, feel more engaged, learn their roles more quickly, and produce higher quality work,” says Psychologist Dr. Jacinta Jiménez.
How Can Employers Support Mental Illness In The Workplace?
Although it’s not the responsibility of an employer to diagnose or provide counseling for mental health employees, by having a better understanding of mental health you’ll be able to offer support to an employee if their work performance is impacted by a mental health challenge. You can also:
- Implement policies that promote good mental health in the workplace
- Practice confidentiality
- Practice open communication and talk to employees about how they are coping with their workload
- Pay attention to work performance for signs that someone might be having trouble coping
- Educate employees about mental health
- Invest in mental health benefits
What Can Employees Do?
Be proactive and take responsibility by being conscious of your diagnosis. Know the symptoms or signs that you might be feeling overwhelmed or may not be coping with. As an employee with a mental health condition, you should:
- Take care of yourself
- Talk to managers if you are stressed or not coping with the workload
- Request accommodations to help you do your job better
- Educate your employer about your diagnosis
- Do not isolate yourself and seek out support if you are feeling isolated
Finding balance in the workplace is a journey. Do not get disheartened if you are not seeing changes overnight. It takes time and effort but the benefits will be well worth the challenges.