How do business leaders, owners, managers and team leaders distinguish the difference between an under-performing employee and those who are suffering a mental health problem?
We have all been there – we have had some pretty difficult patches in our lives, or you might be going through it now! We put on the mask and we go to work. And you know what the truth is? That at any point in time we have no idea what is really going on in another person’s life.
This whole topic of mental health and mental illness is to me a bit similar to the way we reacted in relation to the “C word” (cancer) about 30 years ago. We never mentioned the “C word” because of all the stigma, the fear and dire implications. Thankfully, these days we have a lot more openness about that.
I have become passionate about helping to stop the stigma and misunderstanding in our society of mental health problems and mental illness.
I started on this part of my journey about four years ago when I overcame significant anxiety, depression, and a lot of the addictions that I had lived with for over 30 years.
I used to put on my mask every day.
During that time I had many personal and professional achievements…and for the most part I “hid” my problems well; but it was really painful at times – there were some really dark patches with suicidal thoughts.
Through my lived experience, my healing journey, my Lifeline telephone volunteer crisis support, instructing Mental Health First Aid workshops and studies in counseling, neuroscience and resilience, i’ve become really passionate about this area of workplace mental health, wellness and resilience, and addressing these issues promptly and effectively.
How Does a Person Handle Stress?
Many of us have managed teams for short or long periods. In that time there would have been countless performance review meetings with your employees. But how many times have you checked in on the mental health of a concerning staff member?
Over 20+ years of working as an employee before having my own business, I never once had a Manager ask “How’s Bill going?” Personal and performance issues get blended together in the workplace; but they are very separate issues that require different responses, actions and treatment.
There are many life experiences that can trigger a mental health challenge or problem, both within and outside the workplace.
Relationship breakdown & family problems
The illness or death of a loved one
Financial struggles and instability
Loss of a job or money
The pressures of frequent change
Drug or alcohol misuse to cope with the above stresses
The pace of work and life today is placing greater demands on our mental health, and the world shows no signs of slowing down.
For us as human beings, in our day-to-day lives we kind of operate in our coping zone. But when the stressors in our lives really start to impact on us, then we start to drop below the line and into our stress state – fight, flight, freeze. Otherwise known as – blame, shame and numb. That’s where there’s fragility. This is where an individual’s mental fitness and resilience will come into play.
Not unsimilarly to our body’s immune system, if our mental stability and resilience is depleted, coping with the large and small stresses of everyday life is much more challenging.
Physical vs Mental Health: Avoiding the Downward Spiral
To correlate this with a physical illness such as a lung problem, the severity of the mental health concern could be the equivalent of the flu, with some people just having a rough trot. Or it could develop into a condition more like asthma, or even serious, chronic bronchitis. A mental health concern untreated can quickly worsen – the brain is just another body part after all.
As social beings when we lose something, particularly a relationship, or lose a job or money, it’s really painful. And so we’re susceptible to going into a fog of sadness, severe grief. In a really tragic set of circumstances this may go untreated, and can lead to self harm, or domestic violence; all resulting from the reduced ability to handle loss and stress – which is treatable. We see this all too often.
With over 20% of Australian adults experiencing a common mental illness each year, such as severe anxiety disorder, severe depressive disorder and substance use disorder, there’s a high probability that some of your team are suffering with an undiagnosed mental illness.
This impacts the individual, their family, their peers and your customers.
Many Leaders and Managers are not equipped with the new leadership skills to have mental health conversations with their team members – not to play therapist; but to help them self-assess and identify appropriate sources of support.
The best cure is prevention
When a company has a focused Mental Health Safety Strategy in the Workplace, then Managers, and Mental Health First Aid Officers are taught to notice the signs when a team member may be struggling, and to engage them in compassionate person-centered conversations. This helps to encourage the person to seek assistance either through the Employee Assistance Provider, their Doctor or other resources.
This helps Managers to separate personal issues from the performance issues. It enables us to be authentically caring and significantly contributes to creating a more engaged and committed culture. This almost always leads to improved business results.
Mental Health Fitness & Resilience
We can also help employees BEFORE they reach the point of burnout and their mental wellbeing deteriorates. Mental Fitness and Resilience Skills Training is vital to build the mental and emotional strength of team members. Not only can these skills enable employees to bring increased value and purpose to their work, colleagues and stakeholders, they learn the mindset skills to function more effectively in life overall.
I work directly with Business Leaders, Owners and HR & Safety Specialists to build mental health safety and resilience skills for a healthy culture and enhanced business results.
If you gift your workplace with one critically important thing in 2020, be it Mental Health Safety in your Workplace. Plan now for a happier, healthier more centered team, improved culture and increased work / life performance for all.