Most of us spend at least a third of our daily lives at work.
For some of us, work takes even larger chunks out of our time, as the pressure of longer hours, fears of cutbacks and redundancies, and demands for greater productivity pile mounting expectation on our heads.
The result? Exhaustion, burnout, addictions, physical health problems and in some cases, mental illness.
Stress in the workplace has a significant impact on mental and emotional wellbeing, which is alarming considering that we live in an era where talking about mental illness still makes a large portion of society feel uncomfortable.
THE RISE OF AN EPIDEMIC
The leading cause of death amongst men between the ages of 20 and 35 is suicide. It is not uncommon to hear of successful, high-powered executives who on paper have everything to live for, take their own lives due to the stresses involved with working in high-pressure environments.
Stress, anxiety and depression are predicted to be the second biggest causes of ill health in Western countries by 2020, an alarming statistic, considering that is only four years away.
We are in the middle of a silent, invisible and devastating epidemic of mental illness. Silent because of stigma, invisible because of fear of discrimination and devastating because of the significant impact on personal, family, healthcare and corporate levels.
Few of us want to face the fear that arises in dealing with matters that strike so close to the heart. And yet, all of us are touched by mental illness in one way or another. So what exactly are we afraid of?
WHERE IS THE OFF BUTTON?
Basically, our brains and bodies are pretty much the same as they were 150,000 years ago.
Evolution moves at a glacial pace. But (and it’s a big but) the pace and pressure of life has increased exponentially in the last fifteen years, beyond anything we have ever seen. The digital era has issued in an age of being constantly “ON”. We are not equipped to deal with this. Our systems cannot cope.
As the impact of stress has recently taken its toll on some top executives in large corporations, small shifts in attitude are taking place as companies count the cost of absenteeism, presenteeism, and stress, on their bottom line.
But more needs to be done.
AS A SOCIETY, HOW CAN WE HELP?
Remove the stigma – make it as okay to suffer from a mental health issue such as depression as it is to suffer from a broken bone.
Remove the discrimination - Provide effective and appropriate care for everyone regardless of gender, finance, class, education and geographical location.
Create more open and compassionate ways of being at societal, corporate and inter-personal levels.
AS AN EMPLOYER, HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Many companies are waking up to the proven return on investment that implementing in-house mental wellbeing strategies brings.
It is imperative that we do not see mental health as an individual’s problem. Human beings exist in a complex matrix of emotional, social and cultural interactions. Interventions that target stress management and build resilience can easily become ways to make staff “superfit”, ready to do battle with increasing workloads and pressure.
In essence, it is similar to an American Football coach padding up his players to go on to the field, ready to take a few hard hits. This may work in the short-term, but the question is – what is the point in training your staff to be “superfit” if the environment they are trying to survive in remains toxic?
A CHANGE OF SCENERY
In order to see a substantial change in the issue at hand, we need profound shifts in organisational culture, and a new kind of leadership that values, respects and nurtures human relationship with openness, transparency and trust.
Fear-driven businesses will never be healthy places to work. Mental health requires that we see people, both others, and ourselves as a whole - worthy and connected.
Not only do we need to realise that mental and emotional problems do not occur in a vacuum, and are no different from any other form of illness, but we also need to create workplaces that embed a true commitment to wellness from the top down. Lip service will no longer cut it.
ALL FOR ONE, AND ONE FOR ALL!
We are all human, and we are in it together.
Let’s create humane workplaces where we no longer have to maintain a mask, defend ourselves against power play, innuendo and covert hostility. Places where we feel we belong, are valued, and, dare I say it, cared for, as essential ingredients for a thriving business.
It’s about human energy. Whilst there is no health without mental health, there is no business success without employee wellbeing.