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.
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.
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.