Destigmatizing conversations around mental health at your workplace
Words by Aakanksha Tangri, Founder of Re:Set
“I don’t even know how I feel. I’m just numb,” I told my colleagues during our daily all-hands team call as news of death and devastation in India engulfed my social media feed. My colleagues, many of them in India themselves, responded by sharing what they were going through and what made them anxious as they waited for the inevitable news of a loved one testing positive to hit home.
Those are one of the many conversations about our well-being we’ve had as a team and it’s helped me learn what accommodations I need to put in place within my organization and which team members need to be better supported. Companies and executives can no longer afford to ignore the mental health of their team members particularly in light of the pandemic. While here in the UAE, we are lucky that life has resumed, but for those who have family elsewhere or are working remotely from their home countries, it can be a difficult time as a second wave ravages many parts of the world.
Amidst this, the taboo around mental health still persists but it is crucial to do your part as a leader and as an organization to help normalize conversations around the subject. Here are some ways you can destigmatize mental health at work:
As a leader, you set the tone and culture of an organization and if you speak up about your experiences with mental health or you open up about what you’re going through, you’re going to not only build a bond with your team members, but also show them you understand and value the importance of well-being. You will inculcate a safe space allowing room for conversation and empathy — both of which are necessary in a company. The days of a stoic leader are gone, people now want their managers to be transparent, to embrace vulnerability and show that they’re human, they care and are also prone to going through some of the same challenges.
Listen and reassure
Foster a safe space to have conversations around mental health and what challenges employees are going through. What often holds people back at work from speaking up is the fear of repercussions if they do share about their mental health challenges, so it is important to reiterate that their position at work won’t be affected in any manner. You can create breakout groups, have one-on-one conversations over coffee, hold a town hall and even send out an anonymous survey to actually hear from your team. If you feel some may be hesitant in opening up to you, appoint wellness ambassadors who are on the same organizational level to speak and listen to their peers and provide you with feedback.
Accommodations and support
Once you know what challenges your team is facing, look at how you can address those. Whether it’s by covering therapy costs or providing subsidized therapy, allowing for more flexible hours, continuing with work from home, establishing a workplace wellness program or bringing in well-being experts and coaches to hold sessions for your colleagues. There are a wide variety of support systems and steps you can implement to better support the well-being of your team members that are best suited to their needs and address their concerns.
Evaluate the work culture and give leeway
We are all going through a tough time which is why it is important to be kind and flexible. These supports and accommodations won’t be effective if you don’t make changes to the overall work environment, especially if that is one of the main stressors for employees. What are the toxic points in your organization that need to be addressed? Are you expecting too much of your team and are too rigid in your approach? Are you calling them after work hours or are you respecting their personal time? Is there pressure on them to even work on their days off or be instantly available? All of these can have an immense impact on an individual and can exacerbate mental health challenges they already may be experiencing. Keep in mind to simultaneously also address and evaluate the work culture while you put well-being support in place because you will find overlaps between the two.
Let go of toxic positivity
We’re all guilty of this, but it’s about time we learn to unlearn toxic positivity and statements just as “be strong,” or “cheer up,” and others which do more harm than good. These help no one and further contribute to the stigma around mental health and invalidate an individual’s lived experiences. You may think you’re being supportive by advocating that they always embrace a positive mindset and look at the positives in each situation, but it’s really not that simple. By preaching toxic positivity, you’re instead going to set your team back and also make them hesitant from opening up to you if they know they won’t be listened to but instead will be talked at.
Re:Set is an online resource of tools and stories around education, parenting, gender, inclusivity, mental health and well-being. Collaborating with thought-leaders, government officials, parents, educators, counsellors and corporate ninjas, Re:Set provides an in-depth and trusted resource where people can connect, get inspired and learn from one another. Promising a safe, inclusive space that encourages dialogue on issues that matter and inspire change, Re:Set starts conversations via insightful storytelling, proposes solutions, and encourages education around these tough subjects, whilst aiming to dispel misconceptions and stigma surrounding such topics as mental health.
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