This Is How You Can Support Your Employees Mental Health Self Care

When computer engineer Madalyn Parker told her team she would be taking a mental health day, her boss at the startup Olark responded in an incredibly supportive way. Instead of just thanking her for letting everyone know, he thanked her for being upfront about needing a mental health day. Olark CEO Ben Congleton wrote,

“I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health — I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”

What’s important about Congleton’s response is how firm he is about wanting to see notes like Parker’s normalized, as well as speaking openly about the need for mental health self-care. It’s one thing to offer mental health benefits or to talk about the need to avoid burnout and reduce stress at work, but it’s another to support your employees and team leaders when the time comes. Things like employee recognition and work-life balance are favourites of executives when talking up their organizations, but are all too easily pushed aside in favour of the “bottom line.” Congelton’s note makes clear that mental health self-care, though, is essential to that bottom line.

Workplace stress and anxiety is endemic and it has a huge impact on the productivity and health of workers and the organization. According to a 2014 study, 56% of Americans say that stress and anxiety regularly interferes with their work performance; 51% say stress has a debilitating effect on their workplace relationships; and 50% say it reduces the quality of their work.

But that’s just regular, everyday stress levels – crunch time, personal crises and political upheavals can increase that stress and anxiety exponentially. Although election stress has slowly begun to die down in the U.S., tensions were high for over a year leading up to the election and in its immediate aftermath. In February 57% percent of Americans said that the political climate was a significant source of source; many respondents reported broken friendships and decreased productivity.

Stress and anxiety take a huge toll on your mind, body and those around you. People with chronic stress – those with anxiety disorders or high stress occupations or living situations – often suffer health complications because of it. Like your doctor has probably told you, stress is a killer.

Of course, a certain amount of stress is good for you. It’s what makes things like sports and suspenseful movies so exciting. It’s part of the thrill you get when meeting a new challenge, completing a project, or learning a difficult skill. But good stress is paired with rewards – and it ends. There’s no thrill in making it through the daily grind under a bullying boss or constant crunch time conditions. There’s no joy or value in a company culture that valorizes overworking to the point of diminishing returns. (And those returns are diminishing – the human brain and body can only keep up high levels of attention and output for so long.)

It’s refreshing to see a business leader understand that it’s not just about supporting a grand stress reduction action plan, but that supporting your employees and improving your company culture means supporting them every day in making their work lives better.

This article by Megan Purdy was originally published on Workology.

How to Bounce Back: 5 Resilience Building Strategies for Your Career

I’ve often wondered why building resilience isn’t a key business imperative. My opinion is such, primarily because being human, is often at odds with work life. Work can routinely bring stress, negativity, setbacks and outright failures — and most of us are challenged to combat the effects.

We often frame conversations about resilience with stories of extreme hardship or extenuating circumstances. However, resilience could serve as an ever-present, daily mentor, helping us to rebound from the collected pressures of work life. Most of us forge on — taking little note of the increasing toll — and building resilience isn’t considered.

This can be a serious mistake.

Through all of the trials and tribulation, we rarely notice that our psychological resources are waning.We muddle on. We develop idiosyncratic mechanisms to bolster our mood and maintain motivation. However, the damage accumulates. We become less able to bounce back. Months later, we may realize that we still lament the project that has been cut, laid off co-workers or failing to land an important client.

Our energy levels are affected. When the next event unfolds, we find ourselves bankrupt. Devoid of the necessary resources to meet the challenge.

There have been a number of discussions on this topi, including protecting ourselves from overload, banking positive currency and practicing self-compassion. However, what if we could take resilience one step further? Could we effectively build our skills (and our team’s skills) in this area — just as we challenge our muscles in the gym?

Can we learn to think and act more “resiliently”?

Well — yes. There is evidence that resilience can be learned. The work of Dr. Fred Luthans (who explores the construct of Psychological Capital) has completed research examining this area. It could be fostered by organizations and shared with employees. Supporting research completed completed by Ann Masten also provides important foundational elements. This includes addressing 1) asset factors (elements that enhance our resilience, such as a stable home life or a healthy way to examine failure), 2) lowering risk factors (for example, a lack of a mentor) and 3) altering our perceptions concerning the potential to influence work life circumstances.

Here are a just few ways to apply this knowledge to our daily lives:

  • Facilitate network building. Building long-term asset factors, provides a stable foundation to help us deal with stressful work situations when they do arise. Consider losing a job for example; stronger networks can help employees move on more effectively by providing access to critical information concerning roles and growth needs.
  • Clarify strategy and goals. Reducing risk factors — elements which weaken our psychological safety net, is also vital. For example, knowing “why” we are completing a task and how our role contributes to outcomes is critical. If we fail to believe that our actions have meaning, we are less likely to forge on.
  • Utilize the “staunch reality” viewpoint. One scenario that quickly depletes psychological resources, is sticking to a game plan that is simply not working. Understanding that we have the ability to influence outcomes by embracing realistic assessments of workplace situations — can help us to prepare. This honest view is necessary to review history, properly identify setbacks, evaluate potential impact and brainstorm possible responses before they occur.
  • Aggressively focus on strengths as a “vaccine”. We can mitigate the negative after effects of stressful events, with a focus on positive elements. This includes the identification and utilization of an individual’s stronger vs. weaker skill sets. A focus on the latter, can quickly deplete our psychological reserves.
  • Explore the sources of “drain”. The elements that drain our psychological reserves can be varied (and often surprising). Consider the sources that affect you and meet with your team to determine where the leaks are occurring. Brainstorm actions to stem the tide.

How do you build (and protect) resilience for yourself or your team? (I’ll share a short diagnostic, down the road). Meanwhile, share your strategies here.

A version of this was first posted on