An Expert Decodes Mental Health In Workplace
*This post deals with one of the most neglected aspects of our daily lives. An issue we need to be aware of… a problem we need to accept and understand.
Feelings, emotions, depression, mental health… you won’t hear these terms in most companies or startups. Instead, you’ll hear employees talk about Monday blues, being tired, low energy or general lack of enthusiasm even when the workday begins.
All of those terms may not have any co-relation, or maybe they do and we don’t know what’s going on. There’s no certain way to know the root problem within us unless we have an expert in the office.
Though the startup culture has changed the usual office dynamics, issues like these still exist and are steadily rising in numbers. These problems can start from even the simplest of things like monotony in schedule. And professionals try to find answers on the internet.
Sudeeptha GV, a counseling psychologist, believes that awareness is critical in fields like mental health. Even if people accept that they have a problem, they may not readily seek help from an expert or talk about it, especially in a workplace. She started a blog – The Coffee Shop Counselor with the aim to give the necessary information, debunk different myths around the subject and help people start a conversation.
She used the name ‘Coffee Shop Counselor‘ to depict a safe and relaxed environment for people to come and open up about what’s bothering them. These 10 Points will highlight some of the those problems that bother employees/employers, in the corporate world, face and how one can tackle them.
Being a counseling psychologist, Sudeeptha has worked on different cases and before reading our discussion on problems in the workplace, it is imperative to understand her work. Therapists come across all kinds of cases and some traumatizing stories can affect a person listening to them. Have they affected her?
“At the risk of sounding very clichéd, being a therapist requires finding a balance between showing empathy while retaining our objectivity.”
She explains that her focus is always on helping people out through their current life circumstances “without getting drawn into them in a way which makes us lose our objectivity.”
“Having said that, there are some cases that can be, as you call it, traumatic.”
For situations like these, “therapists do have methods like peer supervision, which allows us to discuss stressors and some client cases where we do need some help or a more objective perspective.”
“There are various ways in which people deal with their problems. Sometimes we may not even be aware that they are unhealthy for us.”
Now, most of you know some of them and probably, indulge in these habits too, “Smoking, doing drugs, drinking alcohol excessively or indulging in junk food, just to escape from problems are a few of the most common ones most of us are aware of.”
And then, there are “lesser known ways like isolating yourself, shutting off, putting excessive pressure on oneself to try to get better, blindly researching techniques and trying to follow them by yourself without proper guidance.”
She also says that there is no particular list of practices that you can follow for good mental health, “I could tell you to focus on the positives and try to keep the toxicity out of your life but each person is unique and has their own ways of dealing.”
“I will say this though – seeking help shouldn’t be a last-ditch attempt or effort to feel better. It can also be a good way to make a course correction or help you figure out some healthy techniques to cope as opposed to trying to resolve everything by yourself or using some unhealthy coping techniques.”
There’s no need to look up the number of people who smoke. Just walk outside any corporate office, tech-park or co-working space, you’ll find groups of people enjoying their daily smoke break. Of all the coping mechanisms mentioned before, this one seems to be quite popular in our country, especially in the corporate circle.
“Yes, smoking is widespread and consequently it has become more popular. ”
According to her, the reason is simple, “The more people you see forming a habit, the more you want to try it out. A common excuse is that it is a coping mechanism, but at some levels, it has also become about not wanting to be left out of the smoke zone conversations, that level of bonding and networking that the habit offers.”
Sure! even if it’s not a coping mechanism or networking tool, it looks really cool in movies, and we can easily quit this harmful habit, right?
“While you could blame the media for perpetuating the myth of the ‘cool smoker’ in the past, the truth is that nicotine is an easy addiction to develop. Even if you tried it out of peer pressure, it becomes very easy to get addicted to the habit and becomes an easy solution to quite literally ‘blow off some steam’.”
The sad truth of any workplace is that the main focus is only on growth. The well-being of employees may be a priority but issues of mental health aren’t on any list.
It has been reported in the past few years that 42% of working professionals in India suffer from depression and anxiety disorders. The percentage has only gone up with the increasing competition.
Sudeeptha say that awareness is a good ‘first step’ in tackling this problem. “Organizations are willing to offer the resources but they usually tend to focus on growth and results because they look to improve an individual’s productivity.”
“This is important, as good mental health does have a positive impact on productivity and performance.”
But she adds, “However, it is also important to look at the employee’s holistic well-being as an individual and within the context of the organization which will positively impact the individual’s mental health in the long run.”
Startups have brought some changes in our workplace culture. Gone are the days when CEOs sat in cabins far away from their employees, now it’s all about open environments.
“Primarily, startups have closed the gap between bosses and employees. They thrive on a close-knit culture and highlight the importance of each individual’s contribution to the overall growth of the company, at least in the initial stages.”
Unlike large organizations, startups don’t have a fixed hierarchy. Senior managers are easily approachable. “There is a lot of emphasis on collaboration and taking ownership and responsibility. ”
“Bosses are a lot more involved and tend to know a lot more about their employees concerns and celebrations as opposed to large organizations. A lot of startups also look to create an atmosphere of openness where the stresses are shared and the achievements jointly celebrated.”
Even though this does have some positive effect on the morale of employees, “sometimes, the lows or setbacks can outnumber the achievements which can lead to employees and employers placing themselves under undue stress which can adversely impact mental health. This does have the positive side of ensuring that employees are not isolated or face problems and stressful situations by themselves.”
More often than not the culture of every startup revolves around work, work and more work. The emphasis is always on fast growth and producing results; this broken culture has led to employees with exhaustion, anxiety and all kinds of depressive episodes.
“This is where balance is key and why even startups have to look out for the mental health of their employees.”
No! This is not about office romances. There are different kinds of relationships. And you and your colleagues deal with multiple relationships, every day. There’s family and friends, and colleagues and bosses at work.
Balancing different relationships can be tricky. We won’t even realize the when problems of one relationship interfere with the ones we have at work.
“The essence to maintaining a balance among all relationships is to prioritize them. Some relationships tend to be more stressful in our lives over others.” The stress from home can be taken over to work or vice versa.
“It is important to explore solutions or compromises one is willing to make to have a better relationship. But since we all have different worldviews and personalities, it is not always possible to find solutions.”
So how do we prioritize? “The relationships that make us happy should definitely have a higher priority, as they help us stay stress-free and hence better capable to handle the stressful relationships.”
Get a life – Heard that term before? Most people who use that taunt don’t even know what it means.
The idiom was used to taunt a person who spent most of his/her time on things that don’t really matter. If you heard this statement in your office, your colleagues think that you spend most of your time at work.
A majority of employees tend to dedicate their time and energy on their work and nothing else. The popular belief is they aren’t happy in their life outside work or they are compensating for something else in their life.
Why does this happen?
“This is a slightly tricky question to answer. A lot of our self-worth is tied to how well we do in our jobs.”
“Right from a young age, we are taught to work hard and achieve great results, often times putting aside pleasure because it will get in the way of achieving success.”
She explains that this continues into our adult lives and our work lives where “we then fail to create a suitable work life balance. This may not necessarily be a reflection of an unhappy personal life or an attempt to make up for some shortcoming.”
“Like I mentioned before, we need to learn to prioritize that what is important to us and then strike a balance to nurture those relationships and activities that are important and focus on those things which make us happy, at work and elsewhere.”
Everyone has it and an office is filled with budding egos ready to fight it out. It can create problems between bosses and employees, parents and their children, teachers and students. There have been some extreme cases where people end up getting hurt all because of one person’s ego.
“Ego has been a subject of several studies for some time now. In its most basic form, our ego determines our actions and our reactions.”
At some level, the ego is tied in to stubbornness “a my way or the highway, because ‘I know this better than you.’”
“These types of interactions are not healthy and can often cause friction in several relationships. The simple and healthy solution is to not be so stubborn in interactions but that’s very shallow.”
“A deeper introspection is needed to try and understand another person’s perspective and not see it as an undermining of your own opinion or of yourself as a person.”
Understanding the people around you can be the first step of the path to create a constructive workplace environment.
“Reacting impulsively to situations can often be detrimental. Using some empathy or being mature enough to give another person a fair hearing is the healthy way.”
Thanks to our ‘more than one billion (and still growing) population’, the amount of competition has increased in every single field of work. This single factor is the root cause of stress in students, teachers, adults, and employers.
There’s no way to end this growing competition. But can we find some ways to deal with the stress?
“Again, there is no one size fits all solution that I can give. Coping methods vary from person to person.”
“What is a good stress buster for me need not be the same for you. As a surface level technique, look for what is the cause of the stress and look for a solution. This may seem like an obvious answer but quite often, a lot of stress is caused when one is unable to pinpoint the source or the cause which leads to even more anxiety and tension, especially among young students.”
“While it is easy to blame the competition and the huge efforts people are being forced to put in to chase an ideal of success, it is also important to take a look at what success means to each one of us.”
She explains that just like stressors are different, “so too are definitions of success and capabilities. Start from there, and then take it one step at a time.”
Whether you accept it or not, no one can deny the reach and power of social networking websites. Every single platform is accessible on your smartphone. Be it Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Whatsapp, most employees tend to spend their ‘break’ on these platforms.
“Social media has both pros and cons. Like with everything else, it is important to know how to strike a balance with it.”
We tend to ignore the addictive nature of infinite scrolling and consume whatever content appears on our screen.
“Anything in excess is always bad and social media is the same. It is important to place it in its rightful category of work or scheduled leisure time to make sure we don’t indulge in too much mindless scrolling.”
“Scheduling and having a fixed amount of time to spend on social media is always better than browsing at random times as a distraction.”
This may sound like a weird thing to do but we should keep in mind that these websites are designed to keep the user engaged for as long as possible. Whether it’s an escape from work or avoiding some work and clearing your mind, on much understand the important of balance.
*All images belong to The Coffee Shop Counselor