By Priya Sridhar, Public Policy Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
In the age of increasing work and life separation, how do we reconcile human needs for care and support within workplace cultures of fast-paced productivity? Vocations vary far too widely in operations to standardize mental health supports or provision of resources. Unlike schools or courts, places of work (even within the same sector) are differentiate in functioning and mission, effectively excluding the ability to legislate on such affairs. This article provides some tips for workplace employees and supervisors to create an office culture that is mindful of mental well-being and takes a holistic-life approach; after all, work is a part of (not apart from) one’s life, inextricable from our inherent needs for care, concern, and community.
Tip 1: Try not to eat where you work
Conventionally, we do not work in the shower, nor eat where we sleep, but why do we so often cram our food down while steering the wheel of work? Even if just for a brief moment, taking a food break can significantly boost brain power, mood, and/or attitude. Encouraging staff to step away to take care of this most basic of human needs can signify an office culture that cares just as much about what workers put into their body as what they produce.
Tip 2: Don’t believe the myth of getting right down to business
Starting meetings with a quick ‘how was your weekend?’ or ‘how are you doing?’ can relieve feelings of anxiety and create a more comfortable work environment. From personal experience, I have found my attitude towards assigned tasks improves significantly when my boss includes a ‘how was your weekend’ into Monday morning emails.
Tip 3: Take an extra minute in the hall
This is a strategy that can be useful even during a quick bathroom or water break. Particularly for fast-paced vocations, where it is difficult to insert regular breaks into the work schedule, taking an extra minute in the hall can increase your blood flow and give your eyes and mind a quick rest.
Tip 4: Create a space for leisurely collaboration/team-building
Break rooms are great for food, coffee, or chats, but when employees have very different schedules (like nurses and doctors), it can be difficult to build community. Something as simple as laying out a puzzle on the table or creating a ‘comments wall’ with weekly prompts can indirectly boost feelings of solidarity among workers.
Tip 5: Lend a warm welcome to interns
For interns, workplace cultures can be shockingly isolating or fast-paced. As a full-time employee, taking the time to introduce yourself and/or inviting an intern to lunch can go a long way in helping them feel included.
A healthy workplace is one where individuals feel valued and supported, provides a positive workspace, and shows respect for other aspects of a person’s life. The happiest employees tend to include interpersonal relationships, commitment to the organization, and a sense of meaning or purpose among the parts of their job with which they are most satisfied. If you’re interested in learning more about building a mentally healthy workspace, check out Mental Health America’s Workplace Wellness resources.