The challenge of advocating mental health in the workplace is addressing real cases but not indirectly promoting a less resilient work environment.
I was in a meeting with employee engagement officers of a large company, discussing the sessions I can provide for their organization. Aside from cyber wellness, we discussed sessions on spiritual intelligence in the workplace, office bullying and mental health.
I did not offer my services to handle discussion on mental health, for two reasons:
(1) I am not professionally trained in mental health
I agree on the need to incorporate mental health awareness on employee programs. However, I also believe that “only” medical doctors specializing on mental health has the authority to discuss it. I don’t think a short course can replace an academic training to deal with such a sensitive and complex issue of mental health. Otherwise, management and treatment of mental health will be devalued.
By leaving it to the experts, we are assured that real cases of mental illness are discussed and attended to, separating those who are just riding on with the trend.
About 2 years ago, when our HR Mentoring program was being held in this premier university in Manila, a faculty chairperson laments that some students use mental health as reason to skip the pressure associated with the requirements of the final 2-3 weeks of a semester.
(2) I prefer to discuss the need to improve resiliency, and interventions to help employees adopt to the constantly evolving work environment.
I am not a fan of Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest, but when his theory is applied on this premise, it makes sense–
“those who can adopt to change, grows”
Competition on the business environment will not go away. As each organization seeks to get a bigger share of the market, it’ll affect productivity driven work culture and environment. Employees who can adopt to these changes, grows with the company.
I’ve been through a toxic situation before. It was when I was promoted to a senior human resource management position, even though my experience is limited to workplace learning and development,
Though I am a regular employee, my status to the new position is probationary for 6 months. If I will not pass the proby period, I cannot go back to my previous post because the plantilla has been filled. Add to that, as takeover manager, the staff that I inherited do not like me and will be happy to see me fail. Because the other managers knew I am still in proby, I am being strongly nudged to submit to their wishes. And when I sought guidance from my peers (fellow HR Manager), I was told to ‘learn how to paddle my own canoe’. At that time, wifey just had our 2nd child and I cannot afford to lose my job (job availability is limited on late 90s til 2000’s)
In the period of 6 months, the toxic environment gave me sleepless nights and became ‘praning’ with my situation. I distrust people, thinking that they are always stabbing me behind my back. I am afraid to lose my job, thus, opening myself to bullying. I acquired illness that are related to stress– diverticulosis, stress dermatitis, back and hip pains that require physical therapy sessions.
My choice at that time is to give up or go down swinging. If I quit, I might not forgive myself and not recover. So I opted to fight to survive.
I got regularized after 6 months. My toxic situation improved after the 1st year. Things changed when I took control of my response to the environment. I stayed with that organization for the next 10 years, I only left when I received an offer to be an executive for another company.
I told the officer that I am meeting with, to focus their mental health initiatives on helping employees develop resiliency and help employees adopt to change. Likewise, to put in place safety nets to prevent violations of #HRinHR (human rights in human resources), and support groups if doable.
The Need for Open Discussion of Mental Health in the Workplace
This blog entry about mental health provides an interesting insight about the need for open discussion on the subject.
Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics conducted a study on the prevalence of mental health challenges and stigma in U.S. workplaces. It looked at the full spectrum, from 100% mentally healthy to chronic and severe impairment. In previous studies, mental health has often been measured through either diagnosable conditions or general stress levels. But these two metrics do not fully capture the breadth of mental health experiences that lie between them, such as undiagnosed conditions, episodic challenges, and symptoms that do not meet a clinical threshold.
We aimed to broaden this perspective by framing our questions in terms of individual symptoms, which are less stigmatized. Instead of asking whether respondents had a specific diagnosis, we asked if they had experienced one or more symptoms from a list of common mental health conditions. (For example, “In the past year, have you ever felt sad, numb, or lost interest or pleasure in most activities for at least two weeks?”) We collected responses from more than 1,500 U.S. adults in the for-profit, nonprofit, and government sectors, with statistically significant representation across race, gender, LGBTQ+ identity, education, and seniority groups — including demographics that have been historically underrepresented and under-researched in this area.
Less than half of our respondents felt that mental health was prioritized at their company, and even fewer viewed their company leaders as advocates.
This needs to change. Mental health is becoming the next frontier of diversity and inclusion, and employees want their companies to address it. Eighty-six percent of our respondents thought that a company’s culture should support mental health. This percentage was even higher for Millennials and Gen Zers, who have higher turnover rates and are the largest demographic in the workforce. Half of Millennials and 75% of Gen Zers had voluntarily left roles in the past for mental health reasons, compared with just 20% of respondents overall, a finding that speaks to a generational shift in awareness. It is not surprising then that providing employees with the support they need improves not only engagement but also recruitment and retention, whereas doing nothing reinforces an outdated and damaging stigma.
Because companies are not doing enough to break down this stigma, many people don’t self-identify as having a diagnosable mental health condition, even though up to 80% of us will manage one in our lifetimes. Low levels of self-identification mean that many workers won’t seek treatment, and it might explain why disclosure rates in companies are low. Our research showed that while nearly 60% of respondents experienced symptoms in the past year — a number much higher than the oft-cited 20% of people who manage a condition in any given year — close to 60% also never talked about their conditions at work. When conversations about mental health did occur, less than half were described as positive
However, advocates of mental health need to understand that a workplace is not a social welfare department. The competitive cut-throat business competition somehow affects company culture. As companies strive to keep their market share, if not hard pressed to get a bigger share of the pie, productivity and competitiveness will creep in to the work environment. Thus, it ‘may’ not be a mental wellness friendly environment.
In our attempt to promote mental health in the workplace, is it possible that we might be cuddling those who are not ‘culture fit’ for a company? Should we consider this as discrimination? In the modern workplace, should would be employees adjust to the company’s competitive standards, or the company, if they want to attract the talent they need, adjust to the demands of the labor market?
Tomorrow (Jan. 22, 2020) is the anniversary of the signing of the IRR of the Mental Health Act of the Philippines. And the 6 months given to DOLE to come up with guidelines and evidence based programs to promote Mental Health in the Workplace is also past due. I have not heard of any news about it except this one: DOLE unit puts finishing touches on referral system for mental health concerns in the workplace (if I missed the more recent news, please post the link in the comment section below). Once this guideline is out, we will experience the fun of operationalizing the intent of the law.
Do you support mental health in the workplace? How do you think this should be promoted?
Founder of LODI Inc. (Learning and Organization Development Institute, Inc.) and Co-Founder of Blogwatch. Mentor and Dad of 2 Gen Z Professionals.
Advocate of #HRinHR (Human Rights in Human Resources) and #DigitalCitizenship
Strategist for Talent, Culture & Content Development, and Cyber Wellness Initiatives
Keynoter and Facilitator of Workplace and Life Learning
Blogging since 2004.