via The Daily Telegraph : THERE’S a silent crisis sweeping through our country’s offices, with three in four Australians saying that workplace stress affects their health.
Left unchecked, the experience can leave people feeling increasingly desperate, searching for answers to solve their workplace nightmares.
Last month Madalyn Parker, a web developer for Michigan-based chat software company, Olark, showed us all how to deal with the situation. She shared an email that she’d sent to her colleagues, explaining she needed a break from work to “focus on my mental health,” and the response from her CEO, who encouraged her to take the time off.
As of today, the Twitter post has been liked by over 45,000 people. Of course, not all managers are as understanding, and for some the sheer idea of asking for a sick day due to mental health reasons might seem like a daunting idea. So, how do you know when you need time off, and what’s the best way to ask?
“We all have mental health just as we all have physical health,” Madeleine McGivern, head of workplace wellbeing programmes at UK mental health charity Mind, says.
“And it can fluctuate. Things such as long hours, excessive workload and poor relationships with colleagues can all lead to unmanageable stress, which can worsen or cause a mental health problem.”
McGivern indicates the key to dealing with mental health issues is to keep an open dialogue with your line manager.
If things are getting on top of you, explain that you are starting to feel unwell, just as you would if you were coming down with the flu.
“Be unemotional and factual: don’t play the ‘poor me’ card.”
In fact, McGivern says, you needn’t look at them as different things: “Creating a distinct category such as ‘mental health sick days’ could undermine the severity and impact a mental health problem can have on someone’s day-to-day activities, and creates an artificial separation between mental and physical health.”
As with the flu, it can be a battle to get to work when you’re struggling with your mental health, so treat it exactly the same way. If you cannot get to work then you have to take time off. Employers also need to understand that without strong mental health among their workforce, productivity will decline.
But what about that all-important conversation when you ask for time off?
“That conversation needs to be face to face,” Corinne Mills, managing director at Personal Career Management, says.
Sarah Rozenthuler, psychologist and author of Life-Changing Conversations, agrees:
Set some context, explaining what at work is causing you stress or mental health issues, whether that be bullying or heavy workload. Don’t go into too much detail, though — keep it ambiguous, and leave the specifics for when you meet face to face.
“Be unemotional and factual: don’t play the ‘poor me’ card,” Rozenthuler says.
It’s also wise to choose your moment carefully — so, not when you or your boss are at a busy time, or tired. You don’t want an uncomfortable outpouring.
“If your manager doesn’t value your mental health then you have to assess whether that job is tenable.”
Let your boss know how serious this issue is to you, don’t play it down, and remember your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
“Have an escape route if the conversation starts to derail,” Rozenthuler advises. “You might say something like, ‘I can see that now isn’t the ideal time to discuss this — can we agree to talk later?”
But what do you do if your manager’s unsupportive? “If your manager doesn’t value your mental health then you have to assess whether that job is tenable,” says Mills.
“If you love that job and you don’t want to leave then you’ll have to build other support mechanisms outside of work.
“But if your manager not being supportive is causing you additional stress, then I recommend looking for another role in the company or elsewhere.”
“Statistics show the majority of people have gone through issues similar to yours.”
So, you’ve had the conversation with your manager, everything is positive and you have taken a few days off, which have helped in your recovery. What do you do when you return to work?
“Think about a phased return. Start on a Thursday rather than a Monday to break you in gently,” Rozenthuler suggests. Make sure you set boundaries when you return — you don’t want old issues rearing their head again. “If for the sake of your health you need to leave the office no later than 6pm, ask a friend to check that you do,” Rozenthuler says.
“Or if taking a short walk at lunchtime would make a real difference, allocate time in your diary. Make your own health and wellbeing a priority.”
According to the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 45 per cent of Australians aged 16-85 will experience a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, in their lifetime.
“What you don’t always realise is that statistics show the majority of people have gone through issues similar to yours,” Mills says.
“Your manager will have had their own issues.”
If you do need a sick day to take care of your mental health, just remember you are not alone.
5 TIPS FOR BOSSES
What’s the best way to respond to a worker opening up about their mental health? Founder of the Workplace Mental Health Institute Pedro Diaz outlines the golden rules.
1. THANK YOUR EMPLOYEE FOR SPEAKING UP
Half of employees with a mental health issue won’t talk to their boss for fear of hurting their career. Half those who do speak up perceive a negative reaction.
2. DON’T PANIC
Bosses often feel overwhelmed by this issue. Remain calm, listen and ask questions.
3. ASK, “ARE WE OK?”
Bosses can’t fix their employees’ mental health problems, but they can address their relationship with them, if it’s a factor.
4. ENCOURAGE THEM TO GET HELP
Suggest an employee assistance program, private counsellor or a help line (try Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636).
5. CREATE A PLAN
Once they’re back talk about what might help. This could be a defined lunch break and leaving time, a daily catch-up about work, or regular exercise.