Managing Mental Health in the Workplace
by Esther Loh
It is estimated that the cost of mental illness in the workplace for Malaysian businesses will reach RM 99.9 billion in 2030. Mental health challenges has direct and indirect costs for businesses in the form of absenteeism, staff turn over and lost productivity.
Malaysians have recorded the 4th worst work-life balance in the world. Unsurprisingly, a majority of us spend most of our time at work. Consequently, it is important for us to become aware of how to manage our mental health in the workplace.
Common workplace stressors
There are a few factors that can create or exacerbate stress in the workplace, which can make us more vulnerable to developing anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.
Do any of these apply to your current workplace?
Toxic organizational culture (e.g., bullying, harassment and discrimination).
High job demands (e.g., not being qualified for the work, long hours and understaffed)
Your work goes unappreciated.
Lack of support for your well being.
Over supervision or micromanaging.
Lack of opportunities for growth or career advancement.
Conflicts with colleagues or bosses.
Signs that someone is unable to handle their workplace stress
Whether you are an employee or a manager, it is important to notice the signs that you or your colleagues are unable to handle your workplace stress. This can include:
Low productivity or low motivation in work-related tasks.
Regular absences or frequently taking medical leave.
Insomnia or disrupted sleeping schedule.
Irritability or uncontrollable outbursts of anger.
Consuming too much caffeine or alcohol to help cope with the demands of the workplace.
Persistent feelings of unworthiness, under appreciated etc.
Negative and defensive about their work.
Impact of our mental health
Building upon this point, it is easy to see how our stress in the workplace can also affect our personal lives.
It can have an emotional impact. We may be more vulnerable to developing anxiety, depression and emotional dysregulation.
It can affect our executive functioning, which is our ability to concentrate and make decisions. This may manifest as irrational thinking, memory loss and lead to poor decision-making.
It can negatively impact our relationships. We may find it hard to socialize and withdraw from our loved ones. We may also take out our frustrations on them.
Stress can weaken our immune system. We may find ourselves falling sick more easily or feeling rundown.
It can also have effects on our physical health: it increases our risk of cardiovascular disease and raises our blood pressure.
Managing your mental health in the workplace
There are a few techniques you can do to manage your mental health in the workplace.
Track and recognize your stressors. Keep a journal to identify what situations create stress and plan how you will respond to them. E.g., when your coworkers gossip about you. Decide what boundaries you are going to enact and how you will practice this.
Develop healthy habits. Make time for exercise. Stretch at your desk. Set aside time each week for something that brings you joy such as cooking your favourite meals, painting or hiking in nature. Prioritise your sleep.
Establish work-life boundaries. This can reduce the conflict between your personal and professional life. E.g., don’t answer work calls during family time.
Learn to relax. Learn techniques such as meditation and deep breathing exercises can help you to switch off from work.
Communicate to your manager. Have an open conversation with supervisor about your metal health and ideas you may have on how to improve workplace productivity. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone in your organization, reach out to your friends and other people you trust.
Seek therapy. Talking to a qualified professional is different from speaking to a friend or family member. A professional can help you to identify the impact of your workplace environment on your mental health, what lifestyle habits that may be contributing to it and teach you ways to manage and improve your mental health.
How workplaces can support their employees’ mental health
Model health behaviours. Prioritise self-care, set boundaries and establish work-life balance so that employees don’t get burnt out.
Invest in workplace mental health training for leaders and managers. This will help to establish and implement mental health as part of the organisation’s culture.
Create a work climate that fosters open and honest discussion of mental health in the workplace.
Improve communication to keep the team informed of any organizational changes. Clarify job expectations.
Address mental health issues in a compassionate way. Make mental health resources available to your team and encourage them to use it.
Esther Loh is an EAP specialist with The Mind Faculty. We are a HRDF registered provider that offers a offer a variety of corporate packages from individual counselling and coaching sessions to mental health workshops, talks and trainings. Find out more here.