Mental Health, The Workforce Welcomes You

Let me start by saying this,

Mental health illnesses are nothing to be ashamed of. It is not a quality that defines you or an aspect of someone’s personality to be judged. The attitudes of the past are no longer the attitudes of the present. We should not ignore someone’s potential due to their health. It is essential to remember folks that mental disorders are not a “flaw” and can be a “strength.” 

I’ll provide an example scenario:

Imagine a young woman around the age of twenty-one rundown because of anxiety and stress. As she pours over her university assignment due in two hours, she begins to fret over her early morning shift at the cafe. She calculates that she’ll only get five hours of sleep and have to work eight hours the next day. Her mind becomes overwhelmed, sending her into a panic attack. She finds herself at a loss with her fatigue and anxiety negatively affecting her motivation. However, she knows this is her responsibility and something she has conquered before. After pushing through the assignment, she submits it triumphantly and prepares for the next day. 

She arrives at work at seven o’clock in the morning drained and exhausted. As a senior member of staff in charge of running the morning shift, she feels she must ignore the constant anxiety she feels inside. Because of this, her work performance suffers along with her self-esteem. Around noon her manager arrives at the cafe and expresses his disappointment in her work. 

Is this the right course of action from the manager?

I don’t believe so. Asking questions to determine the cause of the employee’s performance issues will make them feel heard. In a smaller business like a cafe, an HR department may not exist to mandate these concerns. If the manager understands his employee’s mental health conditions it will greatly benefit the business. If a business is not aware of these potential health concerns, it could lower employee satisfaction. 

Here’s what to keep in mind. The ability to recover from a mental illness episode takes a lot of courage and resilience. It takes an enormous effort to bounce back from an experience such as this, and yet those who struggle with mental health manage to do it every single day. That’s pretty incredible, right?

Speaking from experience, anxiety can be debilitating and difficult to manage; however, it is also an ironic strength. Working against such a challenge makes you more perceptive, courageous and unbelievably hard-working. An open line of communication is crucial. If the employee could voice her struggles openly and be provided with assistance, her performance and well-being could improve. Already, we can see the valuable assets a person like this has to offer, which is only one example.

People may perceive this in a variety of ways. Many have not grasped the understanding needed when dealing with mental health disorders. Due to social stigmas or the environment surrounding them, the topic may be considered taboo. People who understand mental illnesses may be kind and accepting; however, could potentially treat those with these conditions differently. Almost like walking on eggshells.

The key is balance. Being understanding and compassionate would make the person feel welcome whilst ensuring not to overdo the attention and single the person out. These reasons illustrate why HR inductions and processes should always include mental health initiatives.  

HR’s role in mental health assistance

This blog has come at an appropriate time with COVID-19 restrictions easing and the revival of working face-to-face. Living our lives despite the virus wanting to stay can be a daunting idea. I empathise with this struggle. I’d like to point out that there are tools available to help myself and many others when transitioning back to work. Human Resources can be our saving grace by enlisting the tools and knowledge listed below. 

As I dug around for some statistics, I found that the first COVID-19 outbreaks caused a spike in mental health issues. The Black Dog Institute recorded a significant rise in mental health disorders in people who had not previously experienced any symptoms. Those who had pre-existing mental conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (just to name a few) were at risk of dealing with more intense symptoms. It was also found that healthcare workers, people isolated in quarantine and lockdowns suffered from these illnesses.  

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a counselling service with the intention to help employees “with confidential phone counselling & digital support throughout Australia.” The tools this organisation provides will assist HR in a variety of ways. An external source of communication could provide a service that the business itself cannot. I’ve also received a first-hand account of this service’s effectiveness.

I sat down with Mr De Luca, an experienced HR professional from Myrecruitmentplus, who helped me understand how a counselling service is effective in the workplace, “We received statistics on how often the program was accessed, and it showed an increase of usage during the COVID-19 outbreaks.” Staying ahead of a problem and preparing for future outcomes will equip the HR department with the resources to counter any issues. 

Creating an inviting atmosphere

Scenario time:

Two trades workers are on their lunch breaks after a stressful morning of heaving bricks and stone slabs. They sit silently with a sandwich in one hand and iced coffee in the other. They are aggravated by each other’s attitudes and work ethics. On a good day, they seemed to be at odds. One struggles from a severe anxiety disorder, while the other lacks the necessary understanding of mental illnesses. A conflict arises between the two workers due to their contrasting opinions on mental health. Eventually, the disagreement affects their work performance due to the issue remaining unresolved. 

Perhaps the scenario above feels familiar but less extreme? Maybe you can relate to it entirely. Workplace conflict can impact an employee’s self-esteem, especially if the conflict is insensitive to their mental health. As stated by the EAP, “Our counselling aims to resolve both work & personal problems before they adversely impact work performance & general well-being.” 

Ms Winiata, Myrecruitmentplus’ Director of Sales, observed that the “environment of the workplace contributes to the awareness of mental health.” Management also needs to be accommodating to the idea of mental health to create a welcoming atmosphere. Educating other employees on mental health would also be a helpful solution.

An inclusive workplace is a fair workplace

Hiring people with differences is not only nice but smart. That applies to mental illnesses as well. From recruitment to employment, welcoming everyone with open arms will prove to have many benefits. Intellect and talent have proven to reside in people with mental health disorders. Albert Einstein comes to mind. He had schizotypal traits and was speculated to have other mental illnesses.

Imagine if the world never discovered Einstein’s genius and his scientific contributions. Imagine if the world ignored his talents because he was “different” or “unwell”. The world’s advancements wouldn’t be as it is today. We should view every individual the same way. We all have something to offer, and I’ve found our struggles produce some of our most excellent qualities.