Globally, October is earmarked for mental health awareness to inform people about its importance and reduce stigmatization and discrimination often experienced by people with mental illness. This article, however, seeks to sensitize readers on how not to negatively impact someone else’s mental health or cause psychological imbalance through one’s actions or inactions.
There are certain behaviours within organizations that strip employees of psychological protection. Wherever these behaviours exist, all sorts of things take place that indirectly affect the success and sustainable growth of the company without even knowing. However, before going into that, it’s important to clarify certain terminologies to put things in the right context.
As often said, there is no health without mental health. Rightly justified is the WHO’s definition, which holds as a complete state of wholeness not limited to physical state or absence of diseases, ailments, or infirmity but such that includes mental and social wellbeing. Interestingly, mental health also transcends the absence of mental illness. It also involves coping with life’s stressors, working productively, maintaining positive relationships, and making rational decisions. Therefore, it encompasses psychological and social fitness, including emotional resilience, adaptability to changes, and the capacity to experience a wide range of emotions, from happiness to sadness, without considerably impacting one’s daily life.
Interestingly, we are often advised to cope with issues to preserve and protect our mental health while ignoring our environment’s role. We usually put the sole responsibility on the individual, which begs one to wonder how long they can manage a toxic environment without losing it. And when we suggest the person leaves the organization when push comes to shove, one wonders how many more organizations they will have to go through before finding a non-toxic one. Also, note here that the toxicity a person may experience could be from a manager, team member(s), or a group of people; the odds keep stacking. Hence, advising the individual to leave the organization may also have an adverse effect, especially when they love their job or the company.
Therefore, protecting mental health should be a two-way street where both parties are held accountable for each other’s psychological health, with these parties being the employee – who is responsible for self and dealings with colleagues and the employer – who is responsible for everyone and policies that ensure a conducive work environment.
And since mental health is deeper than sanity, it, by extension, includes emotions and circumstances that cause one to be unproductive, uncomfortable, anxious, eerily quiet, restless, angry, scared, untruthful, and sad sometimes. The effect of employees continuously experiencing any of these emotions in an organization can be grievous. Such work situations impede open communication, positive team or organizational culture, transparency, accountability, and willingness to take risks, which blocks innovation, creativity, participation, involvement, and engagement. It is, therefore, crucial for organizations to know how to maintain a positive work environment through psychological protection.
A mentally safe and protected workplace is where employees feel safe sharing ideas or asking questions without fear of regret or ridicule. It is a place where employees speak up without fear of retribution, where they can make mistakes, take responsibility, and be accountable without punishment or criticism. A psychologically protected work environment is an organization where an employee can comfortably be an outlier, even if their opinion is unpopular but truthful. According to Brene Brown, a healthy workplace is where the culture encourages the practice of VAULT, which succinctly means if it is not your story, it’s not for you to share.
The leadership should encourage staff to practice self-care, seek support through EAP when needed, and introduce activities promoting emotional and psychological wellness
The numerous benefits of allowing employees to contribute positively through ideas, solutions, and suggestions include but are not limited to reduced conflicts, fewer errors, fewer accidents, increased compliance with rules and regulations, and minimized bullying and harassment. However, creating such a work atmosphere requires inclusive processes, policies, and organizational culture with built-in structures that seek worker feedback—noting that listening or receiving feedback is not an end but a means to it, which is acting objectively on the information gathered. Likewise, encouraging open communication that fosters a culture of openness and honesty needs to be backed by established trust. Confidentiality and fairness in all interactions help a whole lot with this trust-building.
A positive work environment that protects workers in this context engenders them to contribute their optimal potential and feel energized while at it. Therefore, leaders are responsible for promoting, modelling, and constantly reinforcing these practices. Workplace culture also makes a big difference in safeguarding people’s feelings. A work culture that embraces new ideas and sees discussions as opportunities to learn, share, and collaborate without retribution is usually successful at this.
Even though we seldom consider safety as an issue beyond physical risks, such as working with dangerous chemicals in hazardous environments or around infectious diseases. Eliminating unsafe work situations harmful to workers’ minds through prompt assessment and address is required for full work protection.
Lastly, the leadership should encourage staff to practice self-care, seek support through EAP when needed, and introduce activities promoting emotional and psychological wellness.
Call to action
You suddenly realize your organization scheduled you for a three-month training requiring you to juggle work. The weekly training time appeared to be fixed based on most attendees’ work schedules, with probably little to no consideration of your peculiar daily activity map. Therefore, you find yourself constantly getting to class late, unable to have your camera on, as you are always multitasking during lectures. Even though you tried explaining this situation to the facilitator, references to you have degenerated to “our friend,” which psychologically labelled you as a special, unserious, or unfocused participant.
List five things the training coordinator or facilitator should have done to avoid this situation. Also, what steps would you take to protect your mental health? Kindly send your input/comment to [email protected]