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The Cost of Silence: Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

The Impact of Mental Health on Absenteeism

In a recent talk at the DisruptHR event, I shared a striking statistic from the National Institute of Health: “Changes in mental health impact absenteeism more than three times greater than changes in physical health.”

When your mind shuts down, so does your body. This highlights a critical issue – the high cost of silence in the workplace. When crucial conversations about mental health are avoided, or there is a lack of community and engagement, employees struggle and perform below their capabilities.

The stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace can make it difficult for employees to speak up. They fear being seen as weak or incapable, which can prevent them from seeking the help they need.

This silence can have a ripple effect, leading to decreased morale and productivity across the team. In some cases where there is a toxic environment, employees feel unsupported and misunderstood in their struggles and would never trust someone.

But don’t worry!

It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some of my techniques for supporting a healthy, wellness-forward leadership approach:

Recognizing the Signs

It’s essential to recognize the subtle cues that indicate someone might be struggling:

  • The person who no longer joins colleagues for coffee or lunch.
  • The coworker arriving late, leaving early, and calling in sick more frequently.
  • The once talkative and friendly employee is now isolated in their office and becomes disengaged.

These behaviors often signal underlying struggles that may be personal. We can’t change them, but we can show support and understanding.

During my time as a Sergeant in the RCMP, I noticed a previously outgoing colleague had become withdrawn and isolated. Rather than ignoring it, I approached them privately and expressed my concern. “I noticed you haven’t been joining us for coffee lately. Is everything okay?”

This simple act of reaching out can open the door to important conversations and provide much-needed support. It may be something as small as not sleeping well, a sick child or a problem at work.  We do not know if we do not ask. Asking builds strong relationships and helps people know they are seen and someone cares.

Open Communication

Creating a supportive work environment where mental health is openly discussed can make a significant difference. Try using these strategies in your leadership style:

1. Address Concerns Privately: Approach your colleague in a private setting. Public confrontations can lead to further withdrawal and ruin relationships.

    • Example: I once noticed a coworker who was always punctual and engaged suddenly started to arrive late and seemed distracted. I took them aside privately and said, “I’ve noticed you’ve been coming in late recently, and you seem a bit off. Is there something on your mind you’d like to talk about?” This approach allowed them to open up about personal issues affecting their work.

2. Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage dialogue by asking questions that require more than a yes or no answer.

    • Example: When I noticed a team member who was usually very talkative becoming quiet and withdrawn, I asked, “I’ve seen that you haven’t been yourself lately. Can you tell me what’s been going on?” This type of question encourages them to share more about their situation and feelings. I had built a relationship of mutual respect and trust with this person before I asked these types of questions. Remember, just because you are the Boss or Supervisor does not mean you are the best person to ask these questions.

3. Offer Support: Be understanding and offer support, even if you can’t directly solve their problems.

    • Example: I remember a colleague who seemed overwhelmed with their workload and was visibly stressed. I approached them and said, “It looks like you’re juggling a lot right now. If there’s anything I can do to take something off your plate or if you just need someone to talk to, please let me know.” This simple gesture showed that I cared and was willing to assist, making a big difference in their comfort level. Sometimes, it is the small things that you can help with.

Practical Steps for Improvement

Incorporating mindfulness and wellness into daily routines can help mitigate stress and promote mental health. Share these strategies with your team, and practice them yourself to keep everyone mindful.

1. Start Your Day with Intentional Breathing: Just a few deep breaths can set a calm tone for the day. This is a part of my morning routine, which helps me stay grounded and focused. As I often say, “If you wake up and you’re rushed, then your whole day is going to feel rushed.”

2. Get Moving: Take breaks every hour to move around. This could be a short walk to get a glass of water or a quick stretch. Movement is key to staying focused and energized, so take a few minutes to move.

3. Plan Your Meals: Eating well-balanced meals is crucial. When you’re hungry, it’s easy to reach for unhealthy snacks that can lead to energy crashes. If you’re not feeding your body properly, you’re not feeding your brain.

4. End Your Day with Planning: Before you finish work, create a checklist for the next day. This will help clear your mind and ensure you start the next day focused and organized. You can use this at home as well by writing down your to-dos at night, and you will sleep better because it takes it off your mind.

5. Show Affection: Spend a minute or two giving your pet a belly rub. Engaging with animals releases happy hormones and can be a small joy in your day.

Let's Stay Healthy!

The cost of ignoring mental health in the workplace is too high. As I often say, “I am not what has happened to me but what I have become.” Let’s break the silence, create a supportive environment, and help each other thrive.

Reach out to collaborate on a mental health talk in your workplace!