While WFH during the pandemic has been a toll for a staggering number of workers’ mental health, it is important to normalize making our mental health a priority instead of prioritizing our workload. That could come later. Just like how we do not expect elite athletes to perform without rest and recovery. There is no sustainable productivity improvements without addressing well-being. This goes for “connected employees” – those who are heavily engaged and connected to their company, role and colleagues.
Industrial Safety & Hygiene News suggests 5 effective steps to take in the workplace: 1) Establish workplace mental health programs, 2) Encourage mindfulness breaks, 3) Have an open-door policy, 4) Conduct mental health safety training workshops, and 5) Promote health work-life balance.
Companies need to have/implement policies – no checking of email, phone calls or any company business while being away on vacation. The company can wait so we can have the employee back at full capacity upon his/her return from well needed time off.
A Human Resources Director mentioned “I used to be a connected employee. No more – when I am gone on vacation from now on, I will not be taking my cell phone or my laptop. It can wait. If something catastrophic in HR happens, my team knows how to get in touch with me. Short of an employee death or a workplace violence act.”
The trouble during this pandemic is so many people have “worked” during their staycation/vacation. Sadly for many of us, it’s do as we say and not as we do. Poor mental health isn’t sustainable for WFH.
While this pandemic has headed into an economic boom, it could last into 2023. Therefore, right now couldn’t be a better time to start thinking about taking “mental health days” and the mental health’s impact on the human physiology. You cannot perform at your job if your head is operating in a not-so-optimum environment. Mental health days are absolutely real and absolutely necessary. With the way things have changed virtually at every workplace, looking after mental health is equally as important as physical health. It is crucial to have days to unwind and refresh. We are not robots are we are not meant to function 24/7.
Tips on how use your mental health days/breaks wisely:
- Simply take some breaks in between
- Rest your eyes, meditate. When you’re spending time in front of screens—any kind—the rule of thumb for eye health is the “20-20-20” rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. This could mean looking down a hallway or through a window, or you could go for extra credit and get up and take a short walk outdoors. Giving your eyes a variety of things to focus on breaks up the monotony that can cause eyestrain.
- Use your time to socialize more (even virtually)
- Take conscious social media breaks
- Seeking novelty – Read about random things that you are curious about or something new you want to learn
- Sit somewhere quietly or even nap
- Simply do nothing but eat and stay hydrated. Diet is so important to mental wellbeing as well!
- Practice taking deep breaths
- Take a shower
- Squeeze in a workout
- Do some yoga
- Spend time with your family/loved ones
- Socially connect with friends
- Take a walk or go for a short hike
- Write in your journal
- Catch up on your hobbies
- Make a cup of coffee or tea
- Simply peek in on social interests
- Take a vacation or a getaway to keep your mind off of work
It is true that when employees take a mental health day, they come back refreshed and more creative. Giving permission for yourself to relax and do something outside of work resets your brain for new thoughts, ideas, and promotes energy.
It seems that unfortunately for minimum wage workers and many essential workers, mental health days do not exist. These workers are spending so much time prioritizing the needs of the community, but they need to prioritize themselves first in order to better provide for the community. We need advocacy for more sick day pay to include mental health for this population. Labor laws must change to acknowledge mental health as a priority — to be inclusive to minimum wage workers as well as other worker segments.
Illness is NOT an opportunity to get caught up or ahead. It is the way our bodies speak to us to indicate something is amiss and requires attention.
In addition, many managers need to remember to encourage their employees to take vacation time. It is also the employee’s responsibility, but during this period of working remotely, it seems like a lot of folks forget to take breaks, and others who do — end up feeling guilty when they see their colleagues not taking vacations or days off. Management needs to keep making it clear that if you are entitled to time off, take it. No ramifications.
It is okay to ask yourself the question, “Am I OK?” everyday. If you cannot say yes to that, then you cannot expect yourself to be able to be productive and be your best self at work. It is okay to let colleagues know as well. To have that support system and to be okay with putting yourself first is so important. It needs to be normalized, as so many workers have that temptation to work from bed.
This is a reminder that we all must set our mental health as a priority everyday. Do not forget the Out of Office message. With so many working from home in this past year, it is imperative to take relief breaks throughout the day. Just as in the workplace, we can push ourselves too long and experience burnout.
More people nowadays, took a pandemic to realize and be more aware, of both the greater need for mental health days, the working de-stigmatization of it, and knowing that we all have days where our minds are tired — and it’s worse for folks with long lasting mental health issues.
We are living in a time where the normalization of mental health is starting to gain traction. Health is holistic. It encompasses not only the physical but the mental, emotional, psychological, spiritual and financial components of individuals.
Below, NetQuote surveyed 1,012 Full-Time American Employees about their mental health.