Confidence, training and authenticity are all important factors in improving the mental health of employees.
The COVID-19 pandemic that struck almost two years ago has changed the landscape of work as we know it. Companies have sent their employees home to work remotely, daily Zoom calls have become a thing and everyone has adapted to stay at home. For some, working from home has resulted in loneliness and isolation, while for others it meant that the daily micro-aggressions in the workplace were gone and that creating their own schedules was a new benefit for employees. In fact, an April 2021 poll of McKinsey showed that more than a quarter of participants said they would consider changing employers if their organization returned to work entirely on-site after the pandemic.
In short, companies are realizing both the good and bad effects the workplace can have on employee mental health, especially for under-represented employees facing gender and racial biases in the workplace. As companies return to work in the office, employee mental health is finally taking its place at the table.
Dr Terrence Underwood, Founder and President of the National Association of Minority Speakers, recently spoke to BlogHer’s virtual panel on mental health in the workplace and said many employees face an emotional load when they are in the workplace. An emotional tax is the state of being on guard and preparing to deal with prejudice and discrimination based on your gender, race or ethnicity. “It can be exhausting and start to impact your performance at work, as well as your well-being,” he says. Minaa B., writer, registered therapist, wellness coach, owner of Minaa B. Consulting and speaker on the panel, says she has repeatedly faced the emotional load in the workplace. As a first-generation black American with immigrant parents, Minaa notes that she was raised to be on guard and have concerns about how to fit into the country. Aysha Alawadhi, global culture and organizational effectiveness specialist and third panelist, echoed these views. “As a Muslim woman from the Middle East, my family always told me that I could do anything, but then everyone told me that I was not Arab enough or that I was not American enough. or fairly Muslim or fairly feminine, and it took a lot of strength to overcome what everyone ‘should’ about me, ”she says.
And all this emotional tax is straining the mental well-being of employees. A recent study by Catalyst shows that a majority of men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, 58%, say they feel cautious at work. This impact, called hypervigilance according to Minaa, is a symptom of PTSD. Micro-aggression and racism in the workplace also play a role in emotional tax, all of which can lead to stress and burnout, which in turn impact our immune system. “So now we’re dealing with mental health issues as well as medical health issues,” says Minaa.
Since 2019, the World Health Organization has called burnout a disease due to stress at work. Stress and depression at work can lead to psychological trauma, which in turn can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and musculoskeletal problems. Stress and depression can also cause metabolic, endocrine, and inflammatory changes in the body, which means mental health issues at work metastasize into more worrying health issues for employees.
Another aspect of mental health issues in the workplace stems from unfair wages for women. Alawadhi states that women earn about 89 cents on the dollar and black women about 62 cents on the dollar. “This free job that you ask them to do has created anxiety levels,” she says. “It affects their mental health, and women who earn less money than men for the same type of job are twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.”
So what can businesses do to improve employee mental health? Many things. Dr Underwood would like to see companies valuing people for their differences, rather than punishing or suppressing them altogether. He also says employers should trust their employees to do their jobs, without constantly monitoring them on Zoom or in the office. He also says companies should allow employees to be authentic themselves at work, otherwise it’s like coming to work with a mask on. “If I wear a mask every day, how can you really know me? And if you can’t get to know me, how can you offer me opportunities in high level missions? He asks. Finally, he recalls that companies must provide employees with psychological security. “Give me the opportunity to step back when I see something going on without the idea that I’m going to be berated for it.” Alawadhi agrees and says employers can lead the way in speaking out against injustices. “It’s up to people in a position of power to speak louder than everyone else because they have some protection,” she says. “If you cast that shadow and people realize that they can talk about issues because the person above them shows them that everything is fine, you are perpetuating that kind of culture and you will create a much more culture. healthy. People will feel respected, valued and heard rather than this culture of fear. “
Alawadhi also notes that HR organizations should create policies that allow people to be themselves at work, that ensure inclusiveness is put on the table and not just diversity numbers which are “great. easy to make pretty, ”she remarks. Minaa adds that trainings, conferences and workshops for everyone, including senior management, are also important, and not just once a year during Mental Health Awareness Month. “Mental health is a daily practice, so companies should implement these conferences and workshops quarterly and hire mental health consultants to come into the organization and teach what mental health looks like,” he said. she declared.
Holding leaders accountable for progress in employee mental health is another way to act. In a 2020 item by McKinsey on Mental Health at Work, it is suggested that visible plans with accountability for progress make mental health a high priority on the corporate agenda. Michael Fenlon, director of human resources at PwC, said PwC has asked its teams to create wellness plans using the framework of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being, with the spiritual referring to a goal. . PwC asked everyone to have personal and team goals, then collected the goals so that teams could regularly check on progress against those goals. They made sure to include leaders, who openly shared goals like taking vacations, for example. “Combining visible plans with accountability for progress ensures that mental health gets the attention it deserves on the corporate agenda,” the article concludes.
Recognizing that we all have unconscious biases and educating all employees and management about unconscious biases is another way to tackle mental health issues in the workplace. Unconscious biases are stereotypes about certain groups of people that we subconsciously form and arise from mental scripts that we have learned throughout our lives. An example of unconscious bias would be to favor male applicants over female applicants for a position, even if they have the same skills and professional experience. Unconscious bias training can help everyone in the organization see where their biases cause harm and prevent growth and success. “Until we get to the root of this work and realize that our biases inform our decision-making and our policies and how we judge the people we are trying to hire, promote and pay, we will continue this. cycle of harm in the work environment, ”says Minaa. “We all have negative ideologies that impact our interactions. We all share this and make guesses which is why we all need this training. It is an ongoing practice, and we all need to be a part of it.
Watch the BlogHer Inclusive Future panel Priority to mental well-being at work
The content of the inclusive future on BlogHer is sponsored by Philip Morris International (PMI). BlogHer has independent editorial responsibility for the content. Opinions expressed by authors and contributors may not represent the views of PMI, except for quotes directly attributed to PMI executives.