Every year, Mental Health Day on 10 October draws attention to an important topic: our mental health. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, whose dramatic effects on mental health are clearly evident according to studies, the question arises: What remains of Mental Health Day?
Imagine you have sprained your ankle or can no longer move in any direction because of pain in your back - what do you do? Widespread, and perhaps you are one of them, these circumstances are followed by a visit to the doctor.
Now imagine that your sleep has been poor for weeks. You feel exhausted for no tangible reason, find it difficult to concentrate or feel drained, even after you have had enough rest (usually at the weekend). Imagine further that all these symptoms occur together and noticeably affect your everyday life. What would you do now?
Actions to raise awareness about the importance of mental health have been taking place since 1992. Since 2020, 10 October, World Mental Health Day, has had a different theme each year. This year, the theme is "Mental health care for all: let's make it a reality".
Who doesn't know it these days - the song of the meritocracy? At the same time, today is still the time when goal setting produces people with burnout, depression or anxiety disorders. That's only because it's still prestigious to achieve as much as possible in the shortest possible time. Sacrifice is rewarded more highly than a healthy life-work balance, although this leads to greater well-being and stable performance in the long term.
We still equate health with performance; illness should not exist in our performance-based society of the working world, because it damages turnover. What can companies change in order to work in a goal-oriented and yet healthy way at the same time?
In Germany, mental illness cases rose by just under 17 percent in the Corona year. A much stronger increase was recorded in our neighbouring countries France, Spain and Italy according to a study by the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research. These and other studies on mental health are raising awareness of the existence of mental illness and its increase. This is already a good first step.
However, if we look at the time horizon, we can unfortunately only conclude that the significance in and for the world of work is still very much in its infancy. Or would you openly tell your colleagues that you dropped out last week because you were overworked, could no longer concentrate and somehow everything was too much? Similar to what you might openly say about an ankle injury or back pain?
Once spoken out, many sufferers experience that they now have a stamp on them. Whether this results in overprotective consideration or exclusion because they are perceived to be underperforming or their reliability is doubted, the end result is the same. One is somehow no longer part of the group. Many ask themselves, how do I deal with an employee or colleague who is absent for a short or, in most cases, a longer period of time due to mental stress?
It is not a question of demonising stress or removing it from our lives altogether. Nature has maintained this mechanism for a reason. It helps us focus, learn and grow. Ultimately, there would be no further development without stress. What is meant here is an overload situation that causes tension over a longer period of time and ultimately leads to the symptoms described at the beginning.
So why are we so bad at dealing with mental health or illness? Is it fear, insecurity, lack of experience or lack of empathy and knowledge of the consequences? Surely it is a mixture of all of these, because today there is still too little open talk in companies about what it is like for the person affected.
There is a need to talk to the team:
If we focus on the reasons that lead to unnecessary stress or overload, we can then minimise these circumstances or obstacles.
Perhaps one or the other will now think that employees are responsible for themselves. This is true, of course, and at the same time only partly true. Companies can do a lot to ensure that the right framework conditions, an open culture and destigmatisation of mental health take hold.
Simply because statistically every third German can be affected by a mental illness at some point in his or her life, and the majority of them work as employees, the responsibility also lies in the company itself. According to our experience from client projects, there are helpful small steps that make implementation easier.
Culture comes into play in relation to mental health in particular because it provides the basis for whether an organisation is fundamentally managed through fear and control or whether a climate of openness and trust prevails:
At the next large meeting, take the time to ask: "On a scale of 0-10, how are you doing? This can be done anonymously and still ask afterwards if someone would like to share his or her rating and if he or she would like to say a few words about it. If only one person opens up at that moment, it usually lays the groundwork for others to speak up as well. And isn't there that one staff member or colleague everywhere who is happy to contribute? To make sure that this question does not go unanswered, you can also get exactly this person on board in advance. This will give you an additional multiplier for openness from your staff.
As a leader, there is a natural role model function. For example, it is difficult for your own employees to understand that they should pay attention to a life-work balance if their manager does not also set an example. Set a good example and be open about your own well-being. Hasn't there been a situation in your world recently where you didn't know what to do or where you needed a walk rather than the next video call? Perhaps you also made a mistake from which you could learn for the future.
As a leader, you create trust and connection above all by allowing people to look behind the façade once in a while. The increase in appointments from the home office and the resulting insight into the home gives you an easy opportunity to learn more. Take advantage of this opportunity. This is also a process, start with small steps. Maybe a personal item on the work desk that tells something about family life or simply your counterpart.
One aspect of psychological safety that we always promote with our clients as a basis for successful teams and organisations is getting to know each other. With the help of a trust map, team members can understand each other better and relate well to each other even over distance.
Awareness of the strengths and development areas of each individual helps to keep agreements very efficient. There is no need for justification if, for example, someone passes on a task earlier in a peak phase with a lot of time pressure because he or she knows that the colleague can do it faster. Increased mindfulness makes things easier to address.
The awareness of making good use of everyone's time and not letting things fester unspoken or put them on the back burner thus ensures productive but also open cooperation. For this purpose, we give the team a "Manual to Me", which enables them to get to know each other better. It contains statements like:
What would you like to know about your colleagues? Stay interested. This is the only way to build trust. All these details support success in your team. Overload or unwellness is more often directly expressed and does not lead to absenteeism, because it can be reacted to quickly and directly.
The work for more awareness in the area of mental health does not only start when the first colleagues already drop out due to overwork. Every company, every manager and every employee can create an atmosphere of openness in advance, in which it is okay to say when everything is going over your head and you are only doing 60% today and not 100%.
If it can be addressed openly, it leads to more understanding in the team. Help can only be offered or accepted if transparency is practised. This is not about a sporadic action once a quarter. We must work to ensure that the question "How are you today?" or "How are you today?" can be answered openly and honestly. A failure due to overwork must not lead to distrust and people not trusting each other anymore. And the sustainable well-being of employees is one of the future goals of the working world. True to the motto "Mental health care for all: let's make it a reality".
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