Enjoying the place you work is incredibly important for your mental health. After all, you likely spend more time at the office or on site than you do at home. A considerable number of hours are spent interacting with co-workers and bosses, which means the culture and environment these people create has a direct impact on your mental wellbeing.
According to a recent report, up to 72 per cent of employed Australians admit to feeling unhappy at work, and that’s a confronting statistic. Some of the main reasons for this sentiment are a demanding workload, poor communication, bad relationships with colleagues and managers and a lack of control over workload and schedules.
The report also demonstrated that 43 per cent of working Australians have raised their expectations of workplace happiness since the Covid pandemic began, with one in four employees looking for another job because they’re not currently happy. If you’re not in a position to look for another job right now, you don’t need to feel stuck or like your situation is hopeless.
It might be up to your employers to set workplace wellbeing standards, but you can help keep them accountable. If you’re feeling like your workplace could use a leg up in the mental health department, there are a few things you can do.
Mental health red flags in the workplace
Firstly, it’s very important to take the time to sit down and ask yourself some questions on what is really affecting your mental health. Your workplace may only be contributing to some of the reasons. If you’re honest with yourself, you may notice things in your personal life that are also having an impact. It’s important you’re not just lumping all the responsibility onto your work. Once you have a clear understanding of what the contributing factors are, a few signs to look out for at work could be:
- The water-cooler complaining
I know catchups can be fun, but if the topic is consistently about other people in the workplace or having a whinge about work in general, then I’m sorry, this is a pretty clear sign that the workplace culture is not heading in a good direction.
- You can’t approach certain people in the office
This means you genuinely feel anxious when speaking to certain people. If anyone makes you feel insecure or spoken down to, they are not supporting a positive environment. If this is your manager, it’s a major red flag.
- Work is taking over your home life
Every job has their stresses and sometimes it’s normal to think about unfinished tasks on the weekend, but if you’re consistently worrying about work outside of working hours, it’s not healthy. Especially if it’s the company standard that you’re expected to work yourself to the point of burnout.
- You’re not being your true self
If you feel like you can’t be yourself at work, it’s sign that something needs to change. You should feel like your best self at work and feel empowered and confident enough to do your job and do it well.
How to ask your boss to address company mental health
This all depends on how bad things are. If you have the willpower to try and make things better, then I would approach them with some suggestions on how to improve things. Suggest some weekly meditation classes, some workshops around positive mental health habits to introduce into your day-to-day and maybe even conduct an anonymous survey around how people are actually feeling. Give the staff the opportunity to validate and suggest potential improvements.
If you know you are really struggling, maybe chat with a close friend first about it all and get their take on things. Just talking about how you feel in general will help a lot. Once you feel a little ‘lighter’ about things, approach your boss from a place of wanting to contribute and improve the environment, not to accuse or attack. Talk to them about how you genuinely want to make things better, not just for yourself but for the company as well.
If you find yourself nervous before this conversation, don’t stress. It’s completely normal, but to overcome your nerves, remind yourself that this is in everyone’s best interest, including yours. Having your ideas for improvement ready will also calm the nerves, so take time to write them down and flesh them out with solid examples and evidence to back up your claims. Lastly, a few deep breaths always helps, too.
What does a mental health-friendly workplace look like?
You know what a negative workplace looks like, but what about a positive one? A mental health-friendly workplace is one where everyone feels supported and safe to be themselves and trust in their ability. Having solid shared values of respect, honesty and empathy are also important. Lastly, the reassurance that you feel comfortable in being able to share your thoughts, ideas and feedback is a great sign that your managers and co-workers have created a supportive environment.
Workplace wellness programs are also a great sign, as is support (not shame) around employee mental health days. You are entitled to take these just as you are entitled to take sick days when you are feeling physically unwell.
Luke McLeod is a mindfulness expert and founder of Soul Alive (Australia’s first livestream-based meditation platform) and Soul Consulting, an HR+Culture service that teaches clients (including AMEX and lululemon) how to prioritise their mental wellbeing. He originally started meditating to improve his focus and performance at work. After booking a one-way ticket to India to study meditation in the Himalayas, he made it his mission to train and educate others on the benefits of the practice.
Soul Alive was created as Luke felt that the current big meditation apps (Calm, Headspace etc.) were really lacking in support, interaction and a sense of community – all essential elements to learning, enjoying and sticking with meditation. With live-stream classes each and every week with some of Australia’s favourite meditation teachers (including Luke), Soul Alive is changing the way we meditate.