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Reap the benefits of biking to work

It’s a familiar Monday morning scene: you wake up, shower, graze on some breakfast foods, and haul yourself out the door. Now, there’s a fork in the road. You can either A) hop in your car and drive to work, burning a quarter of a tank of gas and an entire day’s worth of patience in commuter traffic, or B) hop on the cramped, sweaty bus in mid-summer morning humidity, and arrive at work crabby, sore, and a bus fare poorer.

Most of you might not have considered a third option: bike to work.

The benefits of riding your two-wheeled chariot to work are countless, and they range in scope from personal to global. As gas prices continue a steady march towards unaffordability and city transit fails to expand in step with booming populations, the bicycle starts to look rosier than it might have before. In many parts of the United States, biking to work is only tenable from April to October, but it’s not too late to start before the year is out. Here are some of the simple rewards you’ll reap if you decide to start taking the 21-speed steel stallion to work.

IT’S AFFORDABLE AND ACCESSIBLE

Biking to work will cut your costs in more than just the immediate ways. You’ll save a fortune on gas, but you’ll also save on maintenance that your car might require with extensive use. You’ll save money from transit fares, but you’ll also save health care costs in the future if you stay active. A decent road bike will be a significant investment up front (between $500-$1000), but it will pay for itself within the first two weeks of riding. Further, biking is for everyone: there’s no license required, though a familiarity with the rules of the road is of paramount importance.

IT’S HEALTHY

For years, studies have trumpeted the health benefits of biking, with some hailing it as a form of “preventive health care.” Biking is a relatively low-impact activity that contributes to a strong cardiovascular system, and many professionals think that promoting cycling and integrating corresponding infrastructure like bike lanes can actually save lives by combating diseases like obesity and reducing environmental damage. It’s even said to lengthen life spans. These happy side effects promote healthier lifestyles while contributing to a sustainable and cost-effective culture.

IT’S GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

This is a no-brainer, but every car off the road is a plus for our planet. While it isn’t tenable or realistic to suggest that everyone ditch their car, if you bike to work, you can feel confident that you’re reducing your carbon footprint and, in a small way, working towards sustainability for our world. Most global change is composed of these cascading decisions, so the more bikes that are on the road, the better off planet earth (and its inhabitants) will be.

IT CONTRIBUTES TO HAPPINESS

All of the factors listed above contribute to the key selling point: cycling to work can help you feel happier. With more money in your pocket, a healthier lifestyle, and an eco-friendly approach to commuting, it’s logical that one would feel happy. Regular exercise like cycling has been proven to sharpen your brain and improve cognitive functions like reasoning and memory, as well as having a positive effect on mental health.


Beat the heat without breaking your daily routine

There’s a good chance that since summer began, your Instagram feed has been a deluge of beach and pool pictures. With record-tying (and record-smashing) heat waves across the globe, pilgrimages to these precious bodies of cooling water have likely spiked as well.

But of course, these trips are only feasible for those with time to spare. Many folks won’t have the energy, let alone the time, to reach the beach this summer, and for every happy Instagram influencer lounging at the beach, there are 100 workers without paid vacation or adequate days off slogging to and from work in the punishing heat.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the American work week is longer than that of many developed nations, and that margin is growing: a 2015 report found that the average work week for full-time workers in America runs 47 hours, an average increase of an hour and a half from a decade earlier. That leaves little leisure time to keep cool.

That means it’s important to develop ways to stay cool in your work-week routine. Especially given the breakneck pace of the work week, it can seem trivial to worry about beating the heat. But with deaths from heat stroke and dehydration on the rise, it’s more critical than ever to chill out. Here are some simple tips to stay hydrated and healthy without interrupting your daily comings and goings.

BRING A WATER BOTTLE EVERYWHERE

For some, this will be second-nature, and for others, it will be a big ask, but bringing a water bottle with you wherever you roam is an essential during these hot summer months. As you’ve probably heard by now, the U.S. National Research Council suggests eight to ten glasses of water each day, but keeping track of that can be tedious, and summer heat requires that we drink more as our body works harder to regulate our temperature. If you have a water bottle on you at all times, you’re more likely to stay hydrated, which will keep your body and mind functioning at full-tilt. Signs of dehydration include fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, and lightheadedness, so if you notice these setting in, it’s time to take a hit from the water bottle.

PACK AN ICE PACK

Ice packs are for more than just keeping your lunch and beers cold. They’re also relieving and effective coolants for our bodies on particularly hot days. Placing an ice pack on spots like the back of your neck or the inside of your wrists can be a welcome respite from the heat, especially if you’re stationary and able to keep it resting against your body for a period of time. Leave one in the freezer at home and one in the freezer at work—this will give you some icy peace on your morning commute and as you go about your work day. Look for flexible ice packs that can be fastened against your body.

DRESS FOR THE WEATHER

One of the benefits of many modern work environments is a general relaxation of the stuffy dress codes of yesteryear. This flexibility is especially important during summer months, when extreme heat poses a health threat. No normative dress regulations are worth risking your life over, so make a point of dressing according to the weather: if temperatures are spiking, wear loose, breathable clothing that won’t retain heat or cling to your body. This will help your body regulate your temperature more efficiently, which means you’ll sweat less. Win-win!


Can apps help you optimize your well-being and mental health?

It’s 2018, and everywhere you look, necks are bowed into chests while eyeballs firmly fix their gaze on black rectangles. It’s the age of the smartphone – devices that have put the world’s greatest collection of knowledge directly at our fingertips but have also been criticized as the catalyst for a generational mental health crisis.

While smart phones are still relatively new (it’s been little more than a decade since the first iPhone was unveiled), significant amounts of research have been poured into studying their effects on cognitive development, attention spans, social effects and wellbeing. While some experts point to an ultimately net negative effect, many of us have accepted that smartphones and similar technology are here to stay – so why not make the most of it and find ways to use them to boost our mental health?

In today’s blogpost, we’re going to look at some apps and addons that can help you optimize and manage your wellbeing.

*Please note, that these programs should not be considered as a substitute for professional therapeutic or psychiatric services – think of them as tools that can help you track and manage aspects of your life that can contribute to overall wellbeing.

Headspace
For millennia, meditation has been hailed as revolutionary practice to find discipline, clear the mind, communicate with higher powers and even reach transcendental enlightenment. Today, meditation continues to be a widely hailed technique for building and enhancing inner calm and wellbeing. Headspace puts guided meditations at your fingertips and gives those just starting out the basics as well as all the way up to advanced techniques. Additional valuable features: SOS sessions for moments of panic, anxiety and stress and analytics to track progress.

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock
While this app is meant for iOS devices, there are numerous sleep tracking smartphone apps out there, including those that interface with other wearable technologies to measure your nighttime tossing and turning. The effects of sleep on mental health are well studied, and so they should be: we spend approximately one-third of our lives asleep. Evidence shows that a lack of restful sleep can cause poor mental health. With a sleep tracker, you can find your optimal sleep pattern through data analysis and be able to determine what’s your ideal bedtime and natural wake-up time, if a certain sleep position enhances your sleep and perhaps, where you’ve been wandering all those nights you’ve been sleepwalking. Ultimately, a sleeping app is a critically potent tool for managing both physical and mental health.

Productive
Any given day, we’re bombarded by millions of separate and demanding stimuli. Amongst the commotion, it’s easy to lose track of what we need to do to continue to lead of best and most productive lives. Enter Productive, an app with nearly 30,000 positive reviews that gives you the ability to keep track of the big and small items of your daily routine and gamifies the experience to give you a sense of accomplishment when you’re consistently meeting your goals and gives you an extra nudge when you’re not. Productive keeps you honest to yourself and your habits. As we’ve previously discussed, healthy habits are a great way to keep your mental health and wellbeing going strong.

PTSD Coach
This app was first created in 2011 as part of a joint project between Veteran’s Affairs and the US Department of Defense. Since then, it’s been downloaded over 100,000 times in 74 countries across the world. PTSD Coach helps users learn about and manage symptoms that often occur after trauma and provides information on PTSD and treatments that work, tools for screening, tracking and managing symptoms as well as direct links to support and help. The app is also useful for those living with a loved one experiencing PTSD and want to learn more about how they can be supportive.

Wizard
Developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, this “brain training” iPad game may improve the memory of patients living with schizophrenia and helping them live a more balanced and independent life. After a 9 month study involving 22 participants diagnosed with schizophrenia, the team behind the game found that those who played the memory game made significantly fewer errors on the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) PAL and saw an increase in score on the Global Assessment of Functioning scale, used by doctors to assess adult social, occupational and psychological functioning.

Across smartphones, there are more than 5 million apps currently available; a significant chunk of which that focus on physical and mental health management. Among them, there are wonderful tools that can be used to maintain and manage your wellbeing and help you live a happier life. But don’t forget about the world outside of your iPhone – if you’re ever suffering and feel that you need something beyond a screen, reach out for therapeutic services through your EAP or local medical services.


Incorporating Mental Health into your Workplace Safety Policy

When you hear about safety in the workplace, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many, the topic conjures up lessons on proper machinery use, informed materials handling, protective equipment and sometimes, OSHA and other safety organization videos that sought to teach us the importance of workplace safety by shocking us with visual representations of the tragic accidents that could befall us if we weren’t cautious.

It’s paid off: in the United States, worker deaths per day are down from 38 in 1970 to 14 a day in 2016. Injuries and illnesses have fallen from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to 2.9 per 100 in 2016. Educating workers about not only the importance of safety but their right to refuse unsafe work has helped make workplaces across America so that men and women are able to return home at the end of their day.

And yet, despite significant progress, we often overlook a critical consideration of workplace safety: mental health. Narrowly defining a workplace injury as physical trauma stigmatizes mental health issues and serves to alienate and deny treatment to people that are suffering.

Take Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), for instance. For many of us, the first occupations that come to mind that would have an elevated risk of developing PTSD are military and emergency responder personnel. You wouldn’t be wrong – in a 2017 Canadian study, of the nearly 6,000 emergency workers surveyed, 44.5 per cent screened positive for “clinically significant symptom clusters consistent with one or more mental disorders”. As a baseline, Statistics Canada reports the rate for the general population is 10 per cent.

But there are many other occupations at risk of developing PTSD or experiencing other work-related mental health trauma and illness. Journalists reporting on violence, according to one study, could be nearly as prone to PTSD as soldiers. Many train engineers who witness death on the tracks are also susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses.

Unfortunately, by overlooking the risks of workplace mental trauma and fixating on physical pain, we discount the validity of these workplace injuries and discourage affected workers from coming forward to seek help and receive treatment.

Even more unfortunate is that some workplaces actively attempt to invalidate on-the-job mental health injuries because they fear that employees could abuse the system pretending to be suffering to collecting their paycheques for lesser or no work. This is a gross misconception: building a supportive environment that recognizes job-related mental health injuries can ensure employees are better engaged, satisfied and increase retention while reducing absenteeism and reduced productivity.

If your place of employment doesn’t have a mental health strategy or doesn’t adequately handle the topic of mental health in the workplace, this is a good time to start the conversation: June is National Safety Month. This year, in addition to discussing how everyone can avoid physical accidents, make a note to focus on mental health in your workplace by building or updating your employment’s mental health strategy. By doing so, you could help save lives.


We’re halfway through 2018, which means it’s time to check on your New Year’s resolutions

Every year, on the evening of December 31st, folks around the world are united in at least one respect: they’re all compiling a list of New Year’s resolutions. Whether scant or long, easy or ambitious, these lists represent a promise of change, progress, and hope as a new calendar year begins. At their essence, these resolutions represent something very simple and universal: we all want to be a little better. With these lists, we place a wager against ourselves—do we have the discipline and fortitude to follow through?

The trick of the matter is that the shift from December 31st to January 1st of a new year is rarely as monumental as we’d like it to be—it’s simply a new day. This reality makes maintaining our resolutions a challenging endeavour, and these convictions can often fall by the wayside as early as the next evening. But checking in on how we’ve done on these resolutions, whether we find success or failure, is a helpful and constructive practice. Now that we’re six months into 2018, it’s a good time to peek back at your resolutions to assess your progress (or lack thereof) and adjust your path accordingly for the rest of the year.

The point of this practice is two-fold. First, it’s to see where we’ve failed to live up to the expectations dictated by our former selves. If it’s true that failure is the greatest teacher, than we cheat ourselves of valuable lessons when we refuse to examine our own shortcomings. Acknowledging our weaknesses is the first step towards fixing them. Second, we can chart new paths for the rest of the year. It is easy to shrug this off as wishful optimism, but the alternative is another six months wasted. Instead of soaking in disappointment or chastising ourselves for lack of action, this step converts those feelings into something constructive, and sets a positive, practical course that can reinvigorate a tough year.

Assessment of your progress depends on both your metrics for success and the goals you set, so this is, like all things resolution-related, a personal exercise, but an important note is that resolutions do not have to be absolute. They’re an ideal to work towards rather than an iron-clad cut-off, so be sure to view steps taken towards your resolution as a success of sorts. A helpful comparison to use is, ‘Was I doing X at this time last year?’ or ‘Was I working towards X at this time last year?’ If the answer is no, then you’ve at least made some change. The lie of mainstream resolution-making is that change has to be radical. It’s untenable to try to change our personalities overnight; give yourself some time.

Similarly, if you haven’t made any strides toward your goal, perhaps it’s time to consider their importance. Does it still matter to you? If so, why haven’t you worked towards it? Analyze the barriers and reasons why you haven’t applied yourself to these tasks. This information will help you going forward. When a vehicle isn’t working properly, a mechanic runs a diagnostic—it’s important that we do the same from time to time.

The next part—recalibrating our resolutions for the next six months—is more ephemeral, but it’s reliant on the data gathered from the first step. Base your game plan for the second half of the year on that information. Contextualize it with how your year might have changed; perhaps your goals aren’t the same. This is the exciting bit. Half a year is a long time, and for the second half, we can commit ourselves to a wholly different set of personal screw-tightening. It’s like a new new take on 2018.

Regardless of how you started the year, there’s time to finish it out differently. Maybe you’re on a good path, in which case you’ll stay the course. But it’s been a trying, turbulent year for most, and stepping back to assess how we’ve been affected is key to moving forward in an effective manner. New Year’s resolutions are fun, but the mid-year resolution reset is the one we learn the most from.


This Minority Mental Health Month, Commit Yourself To Education

One of the strongest attributes of a modern workplace is a comprehensive and supportive understanding of mental health. Decades earlier, illnesses like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder would be met in the workplace with disdain and alienation. Generally speaking, those days are past, and most modern businesses are committed to healthy, practical policies on mental health. This approach makes for healthier employees, but it also makes for healthier businesses—when employees feel supported and happy in their workplace, the workplace benefits.

July celebrates a specific and important segment of this issue with Minority Mental Health Month. The goal of the campaign is to highlight the ways that mental illness is compounded within minority groups, and while it seems divisive, it’s a critical distinction that links social inequity with mental illness.

The stats on minority mental health are not new, but they continue to be shockingly disproportionate. According to a 2012 study, 28.3% of all Native Americans dealt with a mental illness, compared to 19.3% of white Americans. Compared with straight youth, LGBTQ+ youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death for young Canadian First Nations people, and suicide rates in Inuit youth are more than 11 times higher than the national average.

There are plenty of reasons for these disparities. Minority communities face bias and discrimination that, in many cases, can restrict or prevent access to care. This discrimination can also come in the form of a wage gap, thereby financially inhibiting individuals’ access to already-costly care. Language barriers and cultural insensitivity, both within and outside of health care settings, account for further alienation from mental health services. The Office of Minority Health notes that these communities also receive lower quality of care. These compounding issues are just a glimpse of the minutiae involved in mental health in marginalized communities.

These barriers to access, regardless of how they manifest, contribute to the stark statistics mentioned earlier. While these issues are largely institutional, and individual change seems implausible, a key first step in mending these gaps is recognizing that they exist. Education and social literacy (that is, understanding the nuanced challenges faced by different social groups, and being able to discern who faces them) are important tools for citizens to develop.

For equitable and humane employers, it’s doubly important to be conscious of these gaps, and while corporate policy regarding these inequities is, at best, on a case-by-case basis at this point, it’s worth considering how you can work not just to compensate for these issues, but to hopefully eradicate them. The old aphorism that ‘It takes a village’ rings true here, and combatting imbalance in mental health in the workplace is an important part of the larger struggle for equality.


Pride Month and Mental Health in the Workplace

June is a month for celebrating. Summer begins in the northern hemisphere on June 21, the days get longer, and the heat gets hotter. But most importantly, June is Pride Month, that most joyous of occasions that celebrates LGBTQ+ folks around the world.

It’s an exciting and inclusive month-long party, for sure. But Pride Month is also a critical moment of visibility for a community that’s often obscured, erased, and outright discriminated against by mainstream culture. Though every day of the year should offer an environment where LGBTQ+ individuals feel safe and confident celebrating their identities, Pride is explicitly about constructing this space in the broader culture.

Pride is an excellent time to think about how to make your workplace an environment that’s supportive, welcoming, and safe for LGBTQ+ folks. This is certainly not always the case; in 2015, a study found 36% of non-LGBTQ+ Americans were uncomfortable seeing a same-sex couple holding hands. Many states still don’t have laws in place to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, prejudice is alive and well, and it’s important to make sure your workplace is committed to eliminating it.

Here are some tips for making sure your office is a place where LGBTQ+ folks can feel comfortable, for Pride Month and beyond.

Show Solidarity

Showing solidarity can come in many different incarnations. The easiest of these might be wearing a Pride rainbow pin, something visible that shows LGBTQ+ folks in your office, whether they’re out or not, that you’re an individual they can turn to for support. The more coworkers they see supporting them, the better they’ll feel at work.

If you want to take things a step further during Pride Month, consider collecting donations for a local organization that benefits and works with your city’s LGBTQ+ community.

Brush Up On Your Knowledge

For many, the ever-evolving nature of the LGBTQ+ acronym is a punchline, but it’s merely reflective of the fluidity and impermanence of gender and sexuality. It is indeed a community that frequently evolves, so consider booking an educational seminar for your staff to stay informed on the community and the issues they face, as well as how best to prepare yourself and your office to be a LGBTQ+ friendly space.

Implement Gender-Neutral Washrooms

It’s important to recognize critical difference in rights afforded to certain people in the LGBTQ+ community that others aren’t privy to. Transgender individuals often face harassment, verbal abuse, and even violence for trying to use the washroom. Binaried washroom facilities are the arena for this bigotry, so consider implementing gender-neutral facilities to erase this anxiety for trans folks in your office.

Develop Policies That Protect LGBTQ+ Individuals

This seems like a no-brainer, but many workplaces have gone only halfway in this fight. In most cases, this means they’ve drawn up policies that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation. But reports show that folks with trans or non-binary gender identities still face blatant discrimination in the workplace. Developing company-wide protocols for eliminating and punishing discrimination and harassment based on gender expression is the next step in making your office a protective environment for LGBTQ+ employees. It’s worth noting that this isn’t a radical idea, but rather is becoming the norm—89% of Fortune 500 companies have implemented policy that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, while 66% of these have policy in place that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.


Revamping the culture of Men’s Health

It’s fitting that Father’s Day falls in the middle of June. The annual holiday arrives this year on June 17, right in the middle of another yearly event: Men’s Health Month. Each June marks a month of increased conversation and focus around men’s health.

 

The occasion is used to single out health issues that men face and raise awareness for them. The campaign focuses on preventability, encouraging men to become more active in caring for themselves. (Studies suggest that men visit the doctor for prevention purposes half as much as women.) Prostate cancer is among the most popularly-discussed diseases during Men’s Health Month, in addition to issues like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and sexually transmitted infections.

 

But a critical link in the campaign is missing. These issues (preventability, lack of awareness, and a reticence to take care of themselves) can usually be traced back to men’s mental health. Indeed, the John Wayne stoicism of old might not be front and center anymore, but it’s imprint is still left on men who are told to ‘man up’ or, worse yet, ‘stop acting like a girl.’

 

These phrases are weaponized by men against men to police masculinity, and the results are bleak. If you feel your manhood (and, thereby, your personhood) will be jeopardized if you speak up about a pain in your gut, chances are you might stay silent. The same goes for mental illnesses, perhaps more so: according to Mental Health America, over 6 million American men are affected by depression each year, but most cases will go undiagnosed.

 

This is where that culture of stoicism and enforced silence can turn lethal. Undiagnosed mental illness increases risk of suicide, which disproportionately affects young men. In 2010, 79% of Americans who died by suicide were men, with high rates of suicide occurring among marginalized groups including gay and bisexual men. In much the same way an unaddressed tumor can lead to an untimely death, so too can unaddressed mental illness result in suicide.

 

What this tells us is that the narrative around men’s health is shaped by a toxic shaming and subsequent internalization that, often, results in severe or terminal illnesses that could otherwise have been prevented. This suggests, then, that changing the culture could not only reduce rates of preventable illness in men, but could even reduce rates of preventable deaths.

 

So where does that change begin?

That might depend on the situation, but a key shift is to deconstruct the reductive masculinity that most North American men have been conditioned to accept as the norm. This includes being able to have open, empathetic, and sensitive conversations about health, and implementing workplace policy that doesn’t hamstring men, making them choose between an income or their health. All illnesses, including mental illnesses like depression, should be recognized as legitimate cause for sick leave, rather than met with scoffs and, ‘Why don’t you just suck it up?’

 

We need to encourage men to view their pain, bodily and mental, as serious, and deserving of attention and treatment. This goes hand-in-hand with legitimizing men’s health issues when they express them: if a man expresses discomfort or hurt, the appropriate response is not, ‘Quit whining.’ If these off-the-cuff responses continue, so too will heightened rates of undiagnosed illnesses, and higher rates of suicide, in men. Changing our language is one of the first steps to changing the culture around men’s health.

 

This Men’s Health Month, concentrate your efforts on changing how you think and speak about men’s illnesses, and not just the kinds that affect men below the shoulders. Practice empathy and kindness, and encourage your friends to do the same. This culture and preventability are correlated, so with a few small changes, we can make the positive spirit of Men’s Health Month a year-round phenomenon.


Why Summer Vacations Matter – Even to Adults

In just a few weeks, millions of American kids and teenagers (not to mention, teachers) will be able to enjoy a well-earned respite over the next few months – why? As that old song goes, school’s out for the summer.

Summer vacation. For many, growing up, it was the favourite time of the year. The sun shone longer, and the classroom-free days meant we could spend hours on youthful adventure with friends.

Sure, many of us worked summer jobs or found ourselves occupied with more structured pursuits but it was summer vacation nonetheless. That time away from school allowed us to decompress and recalibrate after the stresses of making the grade; which might now feel relatively trivial next to those that many adult Americans now face daily in the workplace.

So why is it that so many working Americans are placing less importance on their need to take a vacation?

The answer might not be so obvious. According to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), it can’t be blamed on job insecurity or economic anxieties alone. In a 2016 study, USTA researchers found no correlation between unemployment rates and vacation habits or found any evidence that vacations increased with higher consumer confidence rates. One of the culprits, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is technology. Our greater connectivity has made the world much more accessible, but it’s also become a tether back to our desk and workplace responsibilities. AARP’s survey found that one-third of respondents worked while on vacation.

While in some cases this might be because of a sense of obligation rather than duty to our employer, in the end, it’s likely to cause employees to burn out faster: A Nielson poll found that 71 per cent of American workers who regularly take vacations are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 41% among those who don’t.

Dissatisfaction is one thing but what if not taking vacations meant that ultimately, you might have less time to take them in the future? The longest-running study of cardiovascular disease, the Framington Heart Study found that women who went six year between vacations “were eight times more likely” to develop significant cardiovascular problems, like coronary heart disease or experience a heart attack versus women who vacationed twice a year. Researchers also found that vacation time can also help rebalance sleep patterns, resulting in 80% improvement in reaction times after just two to three days of time off with quality sleep.

Vacations aren’t just for kids. While much of this post has focused on encouraging employees to speak up, plan and take time off, we must recognize that America can do more to ensure employees feel confident and are able to take vacations. According to CNN Travel, unlike every other developed nation in the world, the U.S. provides no required days off for employees. To the north, Canada’s provinces all provide for a minimum of two weeks paid vacation. Across the pond in the U.K., it’s a full 28 days. Employers that value their employees wellbeing – both mentally and physically – should provide adequate paid vacation time for workers to relax. They’ll likely see better performance out of those workers because of it.


The Importance of Strong Mental Health in the Workplace

The average North American workday runs from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. For the sake of argument, let’s tack on a conservative half hour on each end of that time slot for commuting, bringing our total, door-to-door work day up to nine hours in length. America’s National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Let’s go low, and say seven hours. Between work and sleep, that makes 16 hours total.

 

Of our 24-hour day, eight hours are left for ‘us’ time. That’s an hour less than our work day, though that figure assumes we get to leave work right on time, and that our commute isn’t longer than half an hour (in fact, Toronto’s average commute is longer, clocking in at 34 minutes, through 16% of commuters spent over an hour getting to work). Through the week, we spend almost-equal chunks of time working, not working, and unconscious. Some estimates suggest that we spend 60% of our waking hours at work.

The point of this is that it’s important to think of work as an environment where we invest a significant portion of our life. Given that fact, it’s important to consider the effect that this space has on our mental health.

A healthy, respectful workplace can bolster feelings of fulfilment and happiness, but a hostile or unhealthy work environment can trigger or exacerbate mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. With this in mind, it’s important to develop strategies for eliminating stressors and resolving workplace aggression so as to protect one’s health. Here are a few strategies for building a workplace that’s healthy, empathetic, and productive.

 

Model respect for mental health

This is a simple but important step that should begin in the boardroom, and work down to all levels of a workplace. According to Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, this means “creating a culture where employees feel trusted and respected, based on a strategic, proactive approach underpinned by strong governance and reporting.” When this structure is modeled by leaders, other staff will view it as an intrinsic part of the job. This ensures an environment where mental health and mental illness can be discussed openly and supportively, and where these things are respected across the board.

 

Communicate

Communication is key for defusing uncomfortable situations. Though it can feel embarrassing or intimidating to express discontent, it’s an important skill to hone in the workplace so that conflicts can be resolved expediently. The longer an issue lingers, the more it wears on one’s psyche. This sort of build-up can be avoided, and workplace relationships can be strengthened, simply by confronting an issue in open, clear conversation. Encouraging this sort of dialogue makes for a safer and more cohesive environment for staff.

 

Manage workload

A recent study found that more than half of all American workers felt overworked or overwhelmed at their job. A few insights can be gleaned from this statistic: modern workloads are becoming increasingly demanding, and because of this, the quality of work completed tends to suffer. Keeping a reasonable workload is key to avoiding undue stress and reducing triggers for mental illnesses. If you’re struggling with work, speak to your manager about reducing it. This will help stimulate better work quality and a more stable, supportive workplace.

 

Take some space

Sometimes, taking time off work to focus on regenerating your mental health is necessary. This ties into an idea called ‘presenteeism,’ which describes when employees are present at work, but unable to be productive because of various stressors. Presenteeism can cost more than absenteeism; in fact, one U.S. study found that presenteeism cost 7.5 times more than absenteeism in lost productivity. What this tells us is that to do good work, we have to mentally sound, and if we need a few days off to get to that state, it’s better for everyone in the long run.