Header Sumit Jaswal via Unsplash.

Most of us have experienced drastic changes in our work lives this year, largely due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The rapidly evolving nature of the contemporary workplace reflects a widespread need to respond to new challenges, including mental health and wellness. This inspired us, MakeSense Berlin, to team up with tbd* for a three-part digital event series on better understanding the connections between work, mental health, and well-being. 

On a societal level, governments, organisations, and large companies are beginning to respond to these impacts. But challenges remain. The biggest ones in Germany include gaps in awareness, knowledge, and resources when it comes to responding adequately and effectively. An atmosphere of stigmatisation also persists in the discussion about mental health in the workplace, shaping societal and individual perceptions that hinder people from seeking support. 

So what are some possible causes for mental health issues in the workplace, and what can we do to better address them? In this article, we summarise our key findings from discussions with the mental health experts who participated in this series: Kristina Wilms, Pedro Marques, Mike Wong, Marie Dobenesque, and Anna Sophia Feuerbach.

  1. Invest in mental health awareness and education
    Consistent education on what mental health means, and doesn’t mean, remains key to challenging cultures of silence and misunderstanding that persist in society. Start somewhere, and get everyone in the office actively involved in building understanding and awareness. This can include having better policies and strategies for addressing staff concerns, developing programming on wellness-related subjects, or inviting professionals to provide presentations or consultations in-office. 

  2. Address the root causes of work-based stress
    Workplace mental health issues are a complex combination of organisational and individual factors. What many may call “stress” is usually a symptom, not the problem itself. Triggers at work can include interpersonal conflict (i.e. bullying, harassment, discrimination), job insecurity, a lack of flexible working conditions, or feeling overworked or underchallenged. It can also stem from isolation, boredom, or feeling disconnected or disempowered. Personal matters such as past mental or physical health issues, family difficulties, financial concerns, or substance abuse can also be factors. 

  3. Promote an atmosphere of open communication
    Mental health matters as much as physical health. Employers can set a tone for open communication by how they interact with staff members who are experiencing struggles. Respond to staff members’ concerns seriously and compassionately. When consistent with policies and regulations, managers and HR staff should follow up with staff who go on leave, which can help a staff member feel reassured about being part of the team, and hopeful about returning to work. 

  4. Reflect on your leadership style and organisational culture
    The future of work will further emphasise interpersonal and communication skills, and an accompanying mindshift from leaders who respond with emotional empathy and vulnerability. Investing in more personal, authentic relationships is an important part of this. We all want to belong, be recognised, and be appreciated. Your company’s culture and values should shape your actions: what do you stand for and want to be known for?

  5. Develop clear workplace policies 
    Companies should proactively invest in integrated and holistic prevention-based approaches, rather than react to incidents as they arise. Developing a comprehensive health and safety policy with clear action plans can help set the tone for a more responsive, compassionate workplace atmosphere. In particular, companies should also address issues of bullying, harassment, and discrimination, and develop clear policies on reporting, support, and enforcement. 

  6. Have a plan for helping staff return from leave to the workplace 
    When consistent with policies and regulations, employers should consult with treatment professionals for a staff member’s gradual return to the office, even if initially on a part-time basis. Treatment professionals should be informed of the duties and demands of the job, so that they can develop a clear plan for when and how a staff member returns to work.

  7. Empower staff to suggest and design wellness-based activities
    Everyone in a company, regardless of their role and status, should have a stake in initiating and organising programming and activities that promote an atmosphere of overall well-being. When staff members play significant roles in planning and organising these initiatives, these initiatives will be more likely to be accepted and followed through with.

  8. Get professional support
    Whether you’re an employer or staff member, never hesitate to seek support from outside professional resources for extra assistance. Companies can receive help with evaluating and developing strategies and policies around workplace wellness, and providing immediate support to staff members.

  9. Practice self-care
    Companies should invest in prevention, and we should do the same for ourselves. Prioritise your well-being before problems arise. What parts of your life consume or give you energy? What are your stress triggers? What do you need physically, mentally, intellectually, emotionally, and socially? Determine your own balance of self-care factors, and try out different approaches to find what works for you. Be your own best friend.

You can access our tbd* / Recipes for Wellbeing Calendar and read more recipes about the topics of wellbeing and mental health here.

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