Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria

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How to Support Your Employees Struggling with Mental Health Issues

Mental health symbol conceptual design isolated on white background

During this month of Mental Health Awareness campaigns, I thought it would be a perfect time to shed light on how to better support those employees suffering with mental health issues.

These days, it seems that our work life is more hectic than ever before. Stress from work is one of the largest contributors to your workplace mental health. Although there can be inherent stress in many roles, many employees do not feel comfortable discussing their mental health at work. Of Ontario workers, only 60% said they would tell their managers if they were suffering from a mental health issue. Your employees spend a significant amount of time at work, so it is important that they can feel safe and supported. I have outlined below some ways that we can start the conversation and offer a welcoming environment to staff who may be struggling.

Mental health education in the workplace

Living with mental health issues can be challenging and overwhelming, and often the stress in explaining to others how you are feeling can be a source of concern. Posting facts and information about mental health in your staffroom is one way that co-workers can learn about how others may be feeling, while bringing the topic out in the open and encouraging others to come forward.

Meeting to discuss concerns

The most important thing you can do if an employee opens up about their mental health is to be compassionate and empathic. As a manager, your skills in being honest, professional and caring can minimize the stress your employee may be feeling. Initially highlighting the employee’s strengths and contributions shows how much they are valued, and then asking open-ended questions that will encourage an employee to request support or accommodation would be helpful. Ensure that you are ‘in-the-moment’ listening, not counseling or probing, and raise the possibility of providing accommodations if needed at this time.

Provide resources and follow-up

Offering resources such as the contact information for your organization’s EAP provider as well as community resources is another way that you can show support to the employee. Although the employee may not disclose a problem to you, they may contact the EAP provider or other professionals and request a workplace accommodation at a later date. Reach out to the employee in a short, reasonable amount of time, to see how they are doing and, if there is further assistance needed to help them do their best at work and in their personal life.

We can all play a part in breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and it can start with a few kind words and a helping hand. I encourage you to connect with others that may be struggling silently to show that you care.

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Stand Up to Sitting Disease

DEVO-I-FiguresHave you ever got up from your office chair after hours of sitting, and surprised yourself with how much time has passed since you last stood up? If this is typical for you and your employees, you all may be at risk of Sitting Disease.

Sitting Disease involves the negative health effects of inactivity, or over-sitting. Research has found that it is harmful to sit for long periods of time throughout the day. Our sedentary lifestyle of sitting more than half our day can increase the likelihood of a heart attack as much as a person who smokes.

Sitting Disease is a syndrome whereby your metabolism is lowered. This can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

By simply spending a few more hours standing in our day, our health can be greatly improved. In fact, life expectancy may increase by about 2 years if we all reduced sitting to less than 3 hours a day. I’ve outlined a few tips to help prevent sitting disease for you and your employees in your workplace:

Stretch at your Desk

  • Employees should spend no more than one hour sitting at their desk without getting up and moving. Your staff can do quick, easy and readily available stretches while at their desk either sitting or standing.

Talking and Walking

  • Talking on the phone in the office is a necessary part of the job, so encourage staff that when the phone rings, try standing or walking around while talking. If appropriate, see if headsets can be accommodated in your office.

 Gentle Reminders

  • Setting an “alarm” on their computer or cellphone on an hourly basis can remind employees to get up and stretch, or to go for a short walk around the office. For some, incorporating a standing desk for their computer could be of great benefit.

Healthy Competition

  • Provide employees with a pedometer to count their steps. Friendly competition among groups of coworkers can be created through weekly awards (i.e. juice bar or sport apparel gift certificates) to whomever is the most physically active in the group.

Don’t Always Bring Lunch to the Office

  • As odd as it may sound, encourage your employees to go for a walk to buy a sandwich for lunch, or to take a break during the day and go outside for a walk.

Skip the Ride

  • Suggest to your staff that after lunch is a great time to take the stairs to get back to the office instead of taking the elevator. If the office is located higher than the third floor, you could always suggest walking up a few flights and riding the elevator the rest of the way.

From standing on the subway to work, to going for a walk at lunch, to standing during TV commercials instead of relaxing on the couch, we can all find ways to incorporate physical movement to avoid Sitting Disease.