Our journey of gaining and maintaining work can be a source of excitement, relief, stress and frustration. A lot of time and energy is spent in this process and it plays an essential role in our ability to keep ourselves healthy.
We often choose our work out of a financial need, but it also necessary for us to make that choice based on what we find meaningful and what gives us purpose. By doing this we create balance, resilience, success and sustainability throughout our journey of work.
We hope to provide you with the important information you need to feel confident and supported in this process.
Mental Health in the Workplace
Mental health, is a state of well-being, and we all have it. Just like we each have a state of physical health, we also each have our mental health to look after. It’s not just about surviving, it’s about thriving. It’s enjoying life, having a sense of purpose, and being able to manage life’s highs and lows.CMHA National
Everyone will be faced with challenges in their life, some more than others, but it is how we choose to respond to those challenges that influences our ability to promote a healthy well-being. It is an on-going journey and can evolve over time, there is no one size fits all model, we all experience it differently.
What happens when we find ourselves struggling with our mental health at work?
It can be a very common experience to not feel well at work, adults spend most of their day-to-day hours working, taking up a large portion of our energy. So, depending on the demands, expectations and environment of our workplace this can have a negative impact on our well-being.
Know what your mental health challenges means for you. We all have different personalities, backgrounds, experiences, education and circumstances, this means our mental health may be different as well. It is important to provide some space for exploration and introspection, to promote our own self-awareness.
Find out more at CMHA National
Stress in the Workplace
“Stress wreaks havoc on your emotional equilibrium, as well as your physical health. It narrows your ability to think clearly, function effectively, and enjoy life. It may seem like there’s nothing you can do about stress. The bills won’t stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day, and your work and family responsibilities will always be demanding. But you have a lot more control than you might think. Effective stress management helps you break the hold stress has on your life, so you can be happier, healthier, and more productive.” – HelpGuide
Stress & Anxiety
These can be some of the most common experiences affecting our well-being at work. Often, we describe our work as stressful, overwhelming, and we are constantly worried about tasks, deadlines and expectations. This all places a heavy psychological weight that we can start to physically respond to. Our bodies work hard to protect us from illness, injury and threats we might encounter, when levels of stress or anxiety are high or constant, our physical health begins to deteriorate.
What is the difference?
Our experiences of stress and anxiety in the workplace can overlap one another, but the difference is in how we gain relief from those experiences. Often, our stress can be alleviated once the source of that stress has been removed, this is not the case for anxiety. The experience of anxiety continues even after the source is removed, it can last longer, feel more intense and continue to disrupt our day-to-day activities.
How can I reduce my stress at work?
Step 1: Recognize & Acknowledge your sources of stress. Remember what is stressful for you may not be stressful for someone else.
Step 2: Notice how you are responding to that stress…physical, behavioral or emotional.
Step 3: Choose an Alternative.
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Burnout: When the stress is too much…..
The experience of burnout is something that is very prevalent in the workplace, it can be directly related to what is happening at work and how we are handling it. The impact it has on our brain can drastically change our decision-making, problem solving and emotional regulation. However, this is not a reflection on your success or failure at work, it is not a personal indicator on whether you are capable of handling difficult times or not. Here is what burnout looks like, we may not be experiencing all these aspects, but just one can have a significant impact on us at work and at home.
- Emotional Exhaustion
- Reduced Personal Efficacy
This is not where we want to be, but sometimes it is outside of our control.
How do I protect myself from burnout at work?
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep
- Establish clear boundaries between work and home
- Take frequent short breaks
- Use your vacation time
- Practice Relaxation
- Regain a sense of control
The benefits are holistic: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual
When to reach out
Some of the first steps in getting support are the most challenging, we experience a lot of fear, doubt, shame and uncertainty. But knowing when we need help is important in order to feeling better sooner. Look to someone you trust and if the first person doesn’t help, ask someone else, there is someone who cares and will listen.
What is creating stress in my life? What is making me feel overwhelmed? What impact does this have on my day to day? Am I feeling worried? Low energy? Trouble sleeping? Emotional outbursts?
These questions help us understand what has changed in our life, when we start to notice that change and how it is affecting our day to day, we can recognize when we need to reach out for support.
Where to reach out
Someone you are comfortable with a co-worker, HR, Manager or Supervisor.
Employee Assistance Program? If your workplace has this option, there should be a number to call to set up your free counselling sessions. Ask human resources or find the individual responsible for the employees’ health benefits.
Family, friends, doctor, counsellor, support groups, online sources, community members, spiritual leaders
It is difficult and overwhelming to know where to start or to take that first step. Even making a phone call to set up an appointment can seem like a daunting task, but better health and wellness do not come from seeking a solution alone, it comes from the courage to acknowledge when we need the support of others.
Rights & Responsibilities
It is important for every employee, no matter their situation to understand and know what their rights and responsibilities are as a worker. By doing this we take some control of aspects that have an impact on us and our environment. As a result, we are left feeling empowered in our work.
Know your Rights
- The right to know the hazards at work and how to control them.
- The right to participate in finding and controlling workplace hazards.
- The right to refuse work that you believe is unusually dangerous.
When it comes to our wellness in the workplace it is required that these rights are fulfilled, and we have some responsibility in asserting and communicating when they are not. This can pose a great challenge when we are already struggling with our mental health, make sure you have the information and support you need to ensure your wellness is taken care of in the workplace.
What happens if I feel unsafe at work?
If we are feeling unsafe at work there are a few places to start, the following include information we may need to protect both our physical and psychological safety.
Occupational Health & Safety
Most workplaces are responsible for following a set of guidelines to keep everyone safe, these rules can vary province to province, so it is important to be aware of what is required in your workplace.
A committee for occupational health and safety is responsible for ensuring these guidelines are met, if you ever have any concerns look for a OH & S member.
Psychological Health & Safety
The occupational health and safety legislation includes the protection of our psychological well-being but in 2013 the Mental Health Commission of Canada took it a step further and launched a national standard focused on psychological well-being in the workplace. However, this standard is currently voluntary compared to OH & S legislation that is often required or mandated.
What happens when we need to take a step back? Will I get fired? Should I just quit?
Each time we find ourselves in a difficult situation in our workplace we need to make the decision that is best for us. Sometimes we feel like if something changes it will be better, sometimes we must take a break and sometimes we need to remove ourselves completely. We should never have to feel like we need to “just put up with” or “just deal with” a workplace that poses a threat to our safety and well-being. There are potential options for support that you can find in the workplace. To know if you have some of these supports available here are some questions to ask:
Are you unionized? Talk to your shop steward about what is happening at work and what some options may be available. This is a good person to ask because conversations are meant to be kept confidential and private.
Can I take sick leave? Sick time is set up differently for each workplace. Some places to check for this information are hiring packages or collective agreements. If you are having difficulty finding the information you need, find out who might be the right person to ask…. supervisor, manager, boss, human resources, etc. You don’t need to feel like your personal circumstances are everyone’s business, it does not need to be public knowledge that you are considering a sick leave. You have a right to be able to take time when you need it, and it is important to understand how we can access that time.
Long-term or short-term disability? Check to see if this is covered by your health benefits, it will outline what is required of you (medical forms, etc) and how much income to expect during your absence from work. If you do not receive health benefits, you may be eligible for Unemployment benefits.
Returning to Work
How do I know if I am ready to return to work?
Often when we have left the workplace, we gain a sense of ease and relief, this lasts for a while, but then the worry begins to set in again as we start thinking about going back to work. We may experience the same fear, uncertainty, shame and doubt that we had when we first decided to step away from our workplace. It is important that this process is done well and in collaboration with your employer, but how can we be sure we are ready to go back……?
Check out this return-to-work story to see some of the questions we may ask ourselves about being ready or not.
I am ready to return to work, what do I do now?
- Keep Health & Safety as a top priority.
- Collaborate & Communicate.
- Patience & Understanding
- Review & Re-evaluate as needed.
- Take connected with personal supports.
The workers responsibility is to tell the insurance company that he or she wants to return to work as soon as medically safe.
The worker should take an active role in developing the return-to-work plan with the insurer, employer, and physician.
The worker should seek additional resources (e.g., addiction services, counseling, etc.) if they are having difficulties following a work injury. Asking for help if needed is an important part of the recovery process.
Finally, the worker should communicate his or her return-to-work plans and progress with family and friends. This will help provide accountability for the worker, as well as a strong support system during this difficult time.
Workplace Wellness Tools
What are my boundaries? What kind of boundaries should I have? How do I assert these boundaries?
Having boundaries in our life is crucial for our well-being, but they can pose challenges in our workplaces. There are factors that seem to block, remove or interfere with our boundaries such as poor management, unclear communication or expectations, relationship conflict, or a lack of consideration from others. However, ensuring healthy boundaries is an important part of keeping well at work, so here are some ideas on how to do that….
Where to start:
- Assess your personal boundaries – values and life priorities, limits, feeling, environment
- Communicate upfront – ie. I do not answer emails after 7pm, what is an emergency
- Create clear structures – reduces interruptions, guidelines on responsibilities
- Keep your relationships professional
- Delegate work when appropriate – being able to say no, checking and asking do you have time, is there someone better suited,
- Say no
- Take time off – use your vacation time, wellness time, and completely disconnect, out of office
- Use technology to help – set working hours, breaks, communicate, redirect work or messages and information
- Expect boundary breakers – realistically can’t control what others do, question this if it is happening more often creating a toxic work environment
Self-Advocacy in the Workplace
Your best advocate is you.
Knowing yourself first and foremost, is the best defense we can create against challenges that pose a threat to our well-being. By exploring how you work best, what you need and how to get it, are the key points to promoting positive mental health in the workplace.
For instance, learning about what happens when you are struggling and recognizing the early signs can protect you from further harm. This also allows you to be confident in asserting your needs before it becomes too much to handle, and you find yourself in an even more difficult situation.
Sometimes we know how to do this outside of work, but often our ability to assert what we need when things are not going well is not transferred to the workplace, likely due to stigma and feelings of shame or embarrassment. This is often not a reflection on your own capabilities, but of the lack of psychological safety implemented in the workplace. If we do not feel safe, validated or that our voice is being heard at work, then of course it becomes challenging to ensure we get what we need.
Three steps to keep in mind when practicing self-advocacy:
- Be informed: this means know your rights and get the facts.
- Decide what is going to work best for you: Make decisions based on what you know about yourself, what you need and ask for what you need. This also includes being clear and confident, firm and persistent. Don’t give up!
- Get adequate support: gather what you need around you to keep yourself healthy, this can be people, places or things that help get you through the resistance you may face.
The goal of self-advocacy is to regain some control we feel has been lost, by successfully asserting our needs we are empowered to promote our overall well-being.
Do I have resilience? How do I know? What does this mean? How can I use it?
When it comes to our mental health and resilience, we often underestimate ourselves, we don’t believe that we are capable of taking on tasks that pose challenges. We experience fear and uncertainty with these difficult situations that seem unfamiliar to us, and as a result avoid. But it is likely that we have been faced with challenges before, how did I get through it? What worked in the past? What did I learn?
Sometimes we must take a moment to reflect on the resilience that already sits within ourselves, that we have been able to utilize in the past. Take a moment, read each statement below and answer yes or no….
- When life gets tough, I reach out to friends and family….
- I believe that I can learn from difficult times….
- When I am under stress, I still take time for myself…
- I have a great support network…
- After a stressful event, I can let go and move forward…
- I cope well with change….
- I try to live in the moment and appreciate the good things in life…
If you have said yes to most of these statements, then great! You already have some great resiliency tools and support set up in your life. If you have said no to a lot of these statements, have you failed? Absolutely not, this doesn’t mean you are not resilient, but maybe it is time to look at what you can do to strengthen your ability to face challenges in a positive way.
Often, our resilience is tested at work, the biggest culprit is stress. When we experience stress in our work, it tests our ability to be resilient. This resilience in the workplace is important because it supports greater job satisfaction, improves self-esteem and increases productivity.
Some important steps to take towards building resilience:
- Focus on personal wellness
- What are your goals? – structure reduces the space for chaos
- Collaboration – a reminder to communicate, discuss plans, ideas and solutions
- Persistence – practice patience and learn from the journey. Don’t give up.
Our ability to showcase resiliency really comes down to how we define ourselves – how we believe in ourselves.
It is an illusion to think that work is work and home is home, they often overlap, trickle into each other and have an impact on one or the other. Life happens, we are all faced with challenges, but when we are encouraged to access support at work and at home the result is a better-balanced approach to wellness.
How do we find balance? Here are some places to start…
- Learn to say yes to yourself and no to others.
- Remove guilt! It helps to remember that taking care of yourself through some Me-time will increase your energy, availability and patience when you come back to the workplace.
- Get rid of perfectionism! When you spend time on something you have to do but is not very important, go for good enough instead of seeking perfection. It will afford you time for things that matter to you.
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