Wellness in the Workplace

The conversation about Mental wellness is one that is only relatively recently gaining traction in high-pressured businesses. But what does it really mean? It is a rather broad term and covers a plethora of more intricate sub-headings. Yet I want to deal with the subject in broad strokes for now- especially when the majority of have been asked to isolate and continue with our lives in a virtual sense. This raises the question, how are we coping & who does it fall to ensure the mental health of employees in this strange time?

The main concern in my opinion is the lack of human interaction. The digital age is a blessing in many ways & there have never been so many ways to feel connected, yet it cannot completely substitute actual human contact. Let me be clear here, I do not mean solely in the tactile sense (although that is important), but experts agree more than 80% of human communication is non-verbal. A feat that becomes much more difficult, when trying to interact via a tiny camera.

We are able to work remotely in a way now that would not have been possible even a decade ago, and we are grateful, yet there really is no substitute for the tiny micro-movements, the intonation, move of an eyebrow or hand, or the speed of a response in real-time.

Larger firms are beginning to see the importance of this as well: happy workforce= more productive & more profitable. So much so that the top law and banking firms have clubbed together to form such organisations as the Mindful Business Charter, where the stress of law (ranked 5th most stressful profession) are becoming more and more aware of the mental health of employees. Mental Health First Aiders have been appointed in large corporations, with an emphasis on men in particular- still very much stuck in the mentality of ‘real men don’t complain- they just get on with it.’

Unfortunately  there is still too much stigma associated with the term mental health- it is a dirty word almost, and with the increase in technology meaning we are never really allowed to switch off, especially in such high-achieving professions such as finance, law etc a president needs to be set for acceptable working times/ hours spent stressing etc.

In an environment, especially being at home, where ‘just 5 minutes more’ so easily turns into hours we need to ask what affect is this having on our health?

Within days of being asked to work from home, and due to the current situation I received a report from my iPhone stating that my screen-time (the time my screen was active) had gone up from a very respectable 2 hours a day, to nearly 7. Surely this is not a good thing. In a world where everything is so readily available at our fingertips, how much is too much & what affect is it having on our health?

Studies are still in the early stages relatively speaking regarding effects on our health, increased screen time, other than stunting our inter-personal skills can certainly be linked to loss or poor quality of sleep. Our circadian rhythms are intrinsically linked to light, so if we constantly have an LED backlit devise in our faces, is it any wonder that our bodies are confused as to when to go to sleep and when to rise? The blue-light argument aside (it has been put forward that our devises use a high concentrate of blue LED which is particularly confusing for regular sleep-patterns) if there is any kind of stimulus too soon to when we are trying to sleep it will have an adverse effect. Lack of sleep is the number one cause of loss of brain function- more so than alcohol or drugs even. The advice is to turn all devises that emit an LED light off at least an hour before bed. Easier said than done. All of our reading, our research is done via devises. So what’s the solution? Call me old fashioned, but if you want to make notes or draft something, maybe use pen & paper? It is the smallest changes that make the biggest differences.

Our Managing Partner was very clear when we started working from home that we keep to a schedule. Get up, shower, start at 9am and take a break- go outside into the real world with real people at lunch time & finish at a particular time as well. That is not to say we aren’t dedicated, conscientious people (Hypocrite that I am, I am sat writing this at 10pm on a Friday night), but in general, if we can be more efficient in our working hours and give ourselves clear breaks we are more productive and achieve better results in the long-run.

Our firm is currently only 9 people strong and for that reason I think it is as important for us to practice good mental health as in a much larger corporation. We have to look out for one another & just because we have more ways of connecting digitally, does not mean we are more connected.

There is much terminology being incorporated into businesses regarding caring for the mental health of employees, but how much is actually filtering through? People who would  now be diagnosed with mental health issues are still very stigmatised. For example, we now have a scale for diagnosis such as autism, ranging from mild to severally. There is a term for people who are very up and down in their natural moods- bi-polar. These are still terms that need to be ‘tested’ and ‘verified’ thus adding to the stigma. In an ideal world we would all work to our strengths & be less relied upon for what are considered our weaknesses. Are you mentally ill if you have a day, or week or month in which your mental state affects you so badly you are unable to perform your normal duties? Or do we just have to be more sensitive to each other’s patterns?

The key to understanding this & becoming more tolerant as both a colleague and employer lies in diversity. The more diverse your workforce, the broader the range of influences and also the frame of reference in order to try to deal with issues and understand them.

We are faced with a turning point in the way businesses are being run currently, we can either all turn into robots, or we can use this time to diversify and include voices that previously did not have a platform.

If you would like to discuss anything relating to this article, please contact Elle Stacey at [email protected]

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