This article is about how you can maintain your wellness in the workplace. It's the mental equivalent of how to maintain good posture to avoid musculoskeletal pain.
I have a starting point which is that workplace mental health is the responsibility of the employer. It's their workplace, you are their employee. The employer is responsible for ensuring that the workplace does not have a detrimental impact on your wellness.
I don't get why employers don't have a more positive approach to workplace mental wellness. Report after report reveals that employees experience a lack of support for mental wellness, poor treatment when things go wrong, and stigma.
We also read that the lack of a meaningful wellness strategy means that employers suffer too, with lost productivity, greater rates of absence, grievance, complaints and litigation, and lower levels of staff satisfaction. A government commissioned study even quantified this as being in the region of £140,000 per 100 employees. That's a staggering loss for employers to ignore. And the same report showed that an investment in mental wellness produces a 400% return on investment.
Putting that to one side though. Until employers get this right, what can you do?
In my Coaching practice, much of my time Coaching is spent on working with clients to reflect on days when they were able to perform & be effective, and days where this was more challenging. The purpose in this is to help them identify the things that happened on a good day to make it good, and the things that happened on a bad day to make it bad.
Of course, there's the big and obvious stuff - a rotten commute, quality of sleep, eating properly, getting exercise, an engaging boss, a critical boss, workplace pressures, workplace culture, the workplace environment - all these big and obvious things can contribute to a good or bad day.
But what we're also looking for in Coaching is the micro stuff. The smaller things that together contribute to whether the client has the resilience to ride the ups and downs of the day. This micro stuff is like taking a cerebral fingerprint. There are elements here that are unexpectedly small but important and things which go together to build resilience or destroy resilience.
And when we raise self-awareness of these things through Coaching conversations we discover a whole variety of things. We see mindset resources (patterns of thinking, beliefs that are infringed when we engage with others); environment resources (noise, lighting, seating); cultural resources (expected or common behaviours, pace of work, levels of teamworking); interpersonal resources (level of feedback, how instructions are given) and personal resources (regularity and frequency of breaks, eating, relaxation, reading, time for hobbies, time to oneself, time with others etc).
The list is endless. And what's right for one person is wrong for another. Each element is like a graphic equaliser, and when all the dials are in the right place we see Resilience and when all the dials are in the wrong place we see discomfort and challenge.
Find the Triggers
So, have a regular conversation with a Coach or trusted friend or colleague (someone who will listen rather than try and supply all the answers). And explore all the things that contribute to you having a challenging day. Identify the things that trigger a threat to your resilience.
Find your Resilient Resources
And alongside this, identify the big and micro things that lead to you being able to perform & be effective. Notice what you do differently.
In both these areas I find the micro-stuff fascinating and, more importantly, the key to achieving Resilience. The barely-noticeable things mount up to either shore-up or grind down resilience.
I've worked with clients where an incredible difference can be achieved by just moving to another seat, having different lighting, making time to take the dog for a walk, reading a good book for 20 minutes in the evening, having some quiet time, eating the right amount of calories (not too much or few), having a 'good' conversation, getting good-quality & honest feedback from a boss, friend or partner, having short & regular breaks, working early or working later in the day and so on. This is a long list of relatively small things that can together contribute to whether you have the resilience to perform & be effective at work.
Having raised self-awareness of Triggers & Resilient Resources, the next step is to self-monitor. Preferably on a daily basis. This can mean keeping a diary, or using an App. It certainly means spending a few seconds each day to think through your list of Triggers & Resilient Resources. Observe how frequently they popped up in the day. Give them a score. Give your overall day a score.
And by observing this and talking through your day with a Coach, friend or colleague you'll be able to refine your list through this self-monitoring.
This self-monitoring will also have the benefit of giving you the determination to avoid more of the bad stuff (Triggers) and get more of the good stuff (Resilient Resources) which is vital for the next step.
Anchor yourself in your Resilient Resources
This is vital. There's no point getting a diagnosis and some treatment or medication for a physical illness, but then not having the treatment or taking the medication. And in the same way it is equally pointless to identify your Triggers and Resilient Resources, but not make sure that you avoid the Triggers and keep hold of the Resilient Resources.
Your Resilient Resources are things that you should really insist on having in your daily life. Which is why I say that you should anchor yourself in your Resilient Resources. If these are the things that keep you happy, and allow you to perform & be effective, then you should be able to convince a reasonable partner, your friends, your work colleagues and your boss to let you stick with them.
Unfortunately blinkered employers often don't embrace giving flexibility for fear of precedent setting, or fear of admitting that the workplace is stressful. So you need to take what you can, and insist where you can; and then compensate where you are unable to get what you need.
The more you can keep hold of your Resilient Resources, the better you will be.
Keep it going
This may sound obvious but this is a continual task. Just as you need to keep up exercise & a good diet to maintain your physical health, so you need to constantly self-monitor your Triggers & Resilient Resources. These are the things that will help maintain your mental health.
Do remember that resilience isn't about avoiding the things in life that might cause set-backs; because this way you wont get to fully engage in life. And resilience isn't about becoming as hard as nails so that the set-backs in life don't have an impact; because this way you risk losing some humanity.
Resilience is about being able to live life, knowing that because you are anchored in your Resilient Resources, then you can be yourself, and perform & be effective.
So don't look for a perfect day. Look to keep the list of Resilient Resources long so that you have the resilience to manage the Triggers that you cannot avoid.
I wish you well — Jonathan Phelan
About Jonathan Phelan
Jonathan is the author of “The Art of the Mentally Healthy Conversation” which tells the story of how Jonathan learned how to manage the challenge of a mental health condition following a child bereavement. The book helps the reader discover how to have mentally healthy conversations, which are more likely to result in support, rather than stigma. It also promotes the benefits of workplaces, universities and schools nurturing a culture in which it is normal for people to talk about their mental health and to offer mutual support for wellbeing and resilience.
Jonathan has held a senior leadership position in a large financial services organisation since 2004, with a long-term career in law, law enforcement and consumer protection. When he went through the trauma of a child bereavement he gained an insight into the obstacles people face when they have mental wellbeing challenges. More importantly he learned how to overcome those obstacles by improving the way we talk about our wellbeing and resilience.
Through his talks, workshops and book Jonathan shares his personal story. Using the drama of how mental health has been portrayed in film, and his own particular take on how our brains process information, Jonathan guides the listener to discover more effective ways to talk about mental wellbeing.
Jonathan also promotes the concept of mutual support for wellbeing; based on the belief that we should all aim to make it normal for people to talk about their mental wellbeing, just as we are already willing to talk about physical wellbeing.