October 10th was World Mental Health Day. Since the beginning of 2020, the isolation and uncertainty caused by the pandemic has brought huge change to the way we live, work and travel. Not all of it good, by any means. But if we were to identify one positive side effect of this upheaval, it has been the renewed attention on addressing mental health issues in our society. It’s a complicated topic to approach, but with so much of the stigma around mental health (slowly) disappearing, we thought it would be a great opportunity to use this month’s Voices post to share some of our own perspectives.
“Since the pandemic started, mental health has finally become a topic at the forefront of people’s minds rather than something faded into the background” said Rachel Davies, Account Manager “In one way or another, we have all been put to the test throughout the past 18 months.”
“It’s also a very personal topic,” added Matt Crandall, Inside Sales Manager. “I’ve personally struggled with depression since I was 16 or 17. The fact is that we live in such a work-focused society; a lot of our personal lives are interwoven with work. Mental health has always been one of those things that you didn’t bring to work with you. It’s only in the last two or three years that it’s something more openly talked about.”
Bring your whole self to work
NetMotion Software by Absolute employees have always been encouraged to bring their whole self to work. What that means for us as individuals is that we all offer our own diverse mix of talents and expertise, as well as our personality. These have been incredibly beneficial to the culture of NetMotion, and have helped to drive a customer-centric, collaborative atmosphere where camaraderie is the norm.
“I definitely think employees bring their personal life to work, as well,” added Nicole Tong, HR Business Partner. “It doesn’t matter how much you try to partition things, what happens at home can definitely affect you at work, too.”
“To Nicole’s point,” said Matt, “we build personas for ourselves at work that aren’t always 100% genuine. We want people to have the freedom to bring their authentic selves, but it’s something that I’ve struggled with for decades; there’s a certain amount of pride in not wanting to let mental health affect job performance. I could be having the worst day mentally and I still have to find a way to put that aside to help a customer with an urgent need. The more we recognize that in people, the more we can give them space and understanding.”
Listening without judgement
These are all very positive, constructive points, but any interaction at work is going to involve two or more people. So, how do we all approach the topic of mental health without stepping over the line? How should we respond to someone who may be in need?
“Something brilliant that I came across while living in Australia is ‘‘R U OK’ Day”, added Rachel. This national day was created by a suicide prevention organization with the goal of getting us to be more aware of our surroundings and check-in on one another. Their message is that you don’t need to be an expert to reach out to someone – you just need to be a good listener. It’s such an important reminder of the impact we can have by simply paying attention and having the courage to take action if we notice that something is off with a coworker or friend”
Encouraging a culture where people feel comfortable talking about stress and anxiety would seem to be an important first step. As Matt points out, an employee may have a lot of strong relationships at work, but the workplace itself needs to have a culture where it’s normal to talk openly about these kinds of pressures.
“There have to be some guardrails around the discussion, and once those are in place then there’s an open lane in front of you. That’s really important, because having people ask you if you’re okay but not feeling like it’s a safe space to answer won’t be productive for anyone. That sense of acceptance and safety has to come first.”– Matt Crandall
A more open environment
Although we may have a way to go before the workplace fully embraces mental health issues, let’s acknowledge how far we’ve come. Time and time again during our discussion, we came back to the point that even 20 years ago, there were so many things about mental health that were considered almost taboo to discuss in the workplace. Admitting that you had depression, for example, could be a career-limiting move, leading many people to suffer in silence.
“Mental health is an open topic in my family,” added Matt. “It’s something we talk about all the time. My dad was very secretive about his own mental health, and I know a lot of that was due to the generation he came from. But now, we want our kids to grow up understanding that these kinds of struggles are real and normal for many people. We want them to know they’re openly supported and don’t have to go through something alone. None of this has to happen in a vacuum.”
Being open about issues can certainly feel uncomfortable, but Matt shared something that should encourage all of us about facing these issues honestly. “Running away from issues just because they’re hard may seem easier at the time but being open is the right thing to do. I sometimes worry if I’m sharing too much, but my daughter tells me that she doesn’t regret it, and I see her generation being so much more accepting.”
“Many of us have been faced with sudden and unexpected life changes since 2020”– Rachel Davies
“Whether it’s losing a job, managing the impossible balancing-act of working and homeschooling, or even dealing with guilt if those around us have been put into a harder situation than we are faced with, everyone has had to deal with it in one way or another. Businesses are realizing the impact that this has, and are seeing the benefit of creating more open and flexible work environments,” added Rachel.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Speaking of family again, one thing that I’ve certainly been guilty of at times is a knee-jerk reaction when one of my kids is feeling anxious or pressured. I wouldn’t say that I ignore their problems, but instead of having a sympathetic ear, I’ve been more inclined to tell them to ‘tough it out’ and move on. It’s something that’s been very common in workplaces, too. But for the people feeling overwhelmed, it can often feel like there’s no way out.
“It’s hard to acknowledge that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Matt. “No matter how many times I’ve been through depressive episodes, I still have moments in the middle where I have to remind myself that this is temporary. It’s a lesson that I wish I’d learned earlier. At times it felt more like a wave that I rode, rather than something that I could steer myself.”
“One of my favourite strategies is breaking down the <What if?> Statement”– Rachel Davies
“When faced with a difficult situation, many of us jump to the “worst case scenario” pattern of thinking. Something we rarely do is actually think about what is the worst thing that could happen? Is it really that bad? By breaking down the situation layer by layer, you will often uncover that what’s left at the end isn’t so terrible after all.”
Job flexibility is key
One thing that NetMotion has always been known for is giving employees space and trust to get their jobs done. That plays out in a couple of important ways, primarily in autonomy and flexibility. Although we do have deadlines and roadmaps in place, there hasn’t been an expectation that people stick to the traditional 9 – 5 schedule.
“I have agency over constructing my day,” said Matt. “At some points, I’ve had to say ‘these are my limits,’ and then I work my day around those limits without being controlled.”
“Even blocking out time in your calendar for a daily walk or class at the gym can make a huge difference,” explained Rachel. That way you are consciously taking control of your day and no one else can book that time” “My doctor also told me about the 20/20 rule for those WFH, she suggested that every 20 minutes I look 20 feet away from the computer screen. By building in these small habits you are setting yourself up for success on a daily basis.”
Matt added, “And when it comes to mental health, it’s human nature to hide some of it because it is so intensely personal. But, I also think that the more we start recognizing it in the workplace and accommodating for it, the more we allow people to talk about it and deal with it in a positive way.”
Putting mental health in the spotlight is a good thing. It means that we see it, that we talk about it and that hopefully we can be better prepared to face issues when they come up. For that to be successful, there needs to be a shared understanding, acceptance and willingness not only to listen to our friends and colleagues, but also to not be afraid to ask them how they’re doing. As the World Health Organization (WHO) says, “Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality.”
At first, these conversations may be uncomfortable on both sides, but being proactive and initiating a healthy discourse will help to create some very positive momentum. Let’s not let this opportunity slip by.
For more information about World Mental Health Day, visit the World Health Organization’s Mental Health Day 2021 site.
If you want to ask someone if they’re okay, check out the useful tips on the RUOK website here.
Remember, whatever you’re going through, someone will face it with you. If you, or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is just a phone call away.
- In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
- In the UK, call the Samaritans at 116-123
- In Australia call Lifeline at 13-11-14
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