Have you ever had a terrible night of sleep but had a very important meeting that day so you could not afford to use a mental health day? Or maybe you had a nasty argument with a spouse, child or family member and the aftermath filled your thoughts on your morning commute.
The harsh reality is the average person spends more of their waking hours at work as opposed to with family and friends. According to a 2018 study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employed persons spent on average 7.9 hours in the workplace compared to 2.9 hours at home. Let this sink in. What does this mean for the new mom who is just returning from maternity leave and is anxious and crying fearful that her newborn may not be properly cared for? What does this mean for the young couple headed to divorce? The truth of the matter is most if not all of us were told that home life and work life must be separate. It is a faux pas in most cases to cry at work which means that we spend much of our work day either suppressing our emotions and pretending we are ok or even worse, misplacing our aggression.
Let us for a moment discuss what impact suppression might have on ones mental health. First coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, “emotional labor” is the work we do to regulate our emotions to create a public perception that we are ok when we are in fact the opposite. We are working hard to express something be it physical or verbal that we do not truly feel which is ultimately emotionally taxing. A person who gets into the habit of pretending everything is ok is ultimately creating a perfect storm for burnout. Stress can make you sick resulting in more missed time from work, increased anxiety, inability to focus and perform or even worse, can result in a heart attack. I have experienced first hand what stress can do to a person the day I frantically called 911 for a fellow coworker who was having a panic attack and couldn’t catch her breathe and was later placed on bed rest for a week following the incident. She later would tell us she felt she could not let people know she was stressed because she did not want to appear weak or incapable of completing her tasks. Have you been here before? We must change this narrative. We cannot afford not to. Now, let’s discuss misplaced aggression. Many of us have seen this before or might have been the perpetrator of such actions. Misplaced aggression can come in the form of passive aggressive comments or can get as blatant as a supervisor or colleague yelling at you or publicly embarrassing you. This type of behavior breeds workplace violence and creates a hostile environment and such behavior is never appropriate and ultimately an HR nightmare.
How can we address this problem effectively? First, employers should begin by setting the atmosphere and tone for a safe place by implementing boundaries. Implementing boundaries in the workplace does not hinder work output but allows for empathy, a safe space and ultimately a more productive workplace. Here are a few tips tips to help create a safe space in the workplace:
- Implement an open door policy or encourage group huddles– Allow your employees the opportunity to discuss issues that might negatively impact their work performance. I’m not asking you to be their counselor, but it is amazing how giving someone five minutes of your attention can positively impact their mood.
- Encourage employees to physically step away from their workspace 20-30min daily to take a real lunch break – Many of us will eat lunch while working which does not send a signal to our brain that we are in fact taking a break. Not taking a break keeps us in work mode and I have certainly been guilty of this myself. A super helpful suggestion would be to go for a quick walk. Step outside. Change your environment and take in some fresh air.
- Implement employee wellness/engagement programs– Have fun lunchtime activities and/or after work activities to take into account all of your employees unique schedules. Encourage a team environment. Your work buddies are your family too and considering the amount of time you spend together it is important to feel comfortable.
We must begin to create the narrative that work does not have to be the place where we hide our emotions only to later unleash them at home. Encouraging individuals to be healthy from the inside out creates residual positive impacts and holistically healthier individuals and acknowledges that we are all human.