Actively manage your well-being at work before things go too far.
Mental health factors into all aspects of our lives, from our careers to our personal relationships. It's no question, therefore, that maintaining a solid foundation of mental well-being is important. Unfortunately, doing so is a challenge.
Research shows that one in four people experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem each year, and one in six working-age adults face a mental illness symptom at any one time. This prevalence translates into the workforce too. In 2015, mental health problems were the third-most common cause of sick leave, leading to 17.6 million days away from work.
The cause of all of this? A survey by UK mental health support organisation Mind found that work is the most common source of stress among Brits.
If you're not surprised by this, that may be because you know a thing or two about the effects of work-related stress. The question then becomes: How do you manage your mental health at work?
To help, we've gathered our best tips for identifying red flags and finding balance in your work life. Use them as a guide to creating a happier and healthier career.
Causes and effects of poor mental health at work
Before you can start taking steps towards better workplace well-being, you need to understand the risks. From identifying warning signs to conquering burnout, keep these things in mind.
An unhealthy workplace
Is your workplace helping your mental health - or hurting it? Unfortunately, not all workplaces support the mental health of their employees. Bullying bosses and poor working methods abound, and these things impact more than just your productivity.
A harmful workplace can contribute to increased stress, lowered self-worth, and even depression. This article lays out the differences between healthy and unhealthy workplaces. Keep an eye out at your job for any of the poor practices mentioned (and give a nod of gratitude for the good ones that look familiar).
If you've been staying up at all hours of the night just trying to finish that one last task, you're doing yourself more harm than good. Sure, an extra tick on your to-do list is nice, but the negative effects of sleep deprivation far outweigh the benefits of a late-night work session. A consistent lack of sleep has damaging consequences to your mood, your ability to focus and your stress levels.
Instead of burning the midnight oil, make rest a priority by putting a hard stop on your workday and establishing a sleep schedule. You'll find yourself happier and more productive at work in the long run.
Take a look at our overview of work-related sleep deprivation.
Whilst some tiredness is understandable, it can go too far and become the occupational phenomenon that is burnout. In 2019, the World Health Organisation classified burnout as a diagnosable syndrome. It is defined as 'resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successful managed', and is characterised by the following:
Exhaustion or a lack of energy
Feelings of distance or negativity towards one's job
Don't let this new classification worry you too much, though. If you are experiencing burnout, there are ways to combat it and return to your more energised, productive self. For example, adjusting your workload and learning to say 'no' are two of the best techniques.
Of course, there's no better way to fix a problem than to prevent it from happening in the first place. Because of that, check in with yourself regularly and keep the signs of burnout in mind. If you can notice when they start to appear, you can take action to get yourself back on track before things get too challenging.
Read here for more of our advice on conquering work burnout.
Now that you know what's at stake, you can get proactive about maintaining your mental health at work. These workplace practices will help you set a foundation for a healthier career.
Sometimes, cultivating a healthy experience means knowing when to put the work in - and when to stop. Setting boundaries can help you control where and when work is part of your life, preventing work from taking over entirely. These lines can be to separate your work life from your home life, manage your co-workers' expectations or something else entirely.
If you notice that work is creeping into family time, that's a red flag that your boundaries need to be reinforced. You may feel like you are accomplishing less, but the positive payout for your mental health is worth it.
This article further explains the benefits of boundaries and how to set them.
You know that nobody's perfect, and yet, you expect perfection from yourself. No doubt, there is praise to be earned for a strong work ethic; however, expecting too much of yourself is sure to leave you feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. Chasing perfectionism, whilst noble, is doing you no favours in the workplace.
Instead, accept that you are only human and move forward with a baseline of compassion for your imperfect self. When you make a mistake at work, refrain from catastrophising and forgive yourself for it. And as you do so, keep focussed on yourself, rather than those around you; comparison will only distract and upset you.
Check out our deep dive into combatting perfectionism at work.
Know when to call it quits
If your boat has sprung a leak, you should do your best to fix it. That said, you also have to know when it's time to jump ship and find a new sailing vessel. There are some workplaces that are so unhealthy that, despite your best efforts, the solution is simply to find a new place of employment.
Certainly, before you take this drastic step and embark on a new job search, do your best to combat your work stress. Set the boundaries described above, ask co-workers for support and even talk to your boss about it. However, if things don't improve, it's important to prioritise your mental health and find a company or team that will boost you up, not bring you down.
If you've decided that enough is enough, remember that there is no shame in doing what is best for you. Here's a further breakdown of how to manage stress and identify when it's time to move on.
Managing mental health at work is all about finding balance. And that does not mean barely staying afloat whilst desperately juggling a number of elements that equally overwhelm you. It means both not allowing your work to take over your entire life and keeping your stress down to a healthy, reasonable level.
There's no reason to expect that everything will be perfect all the time. However, if your job is chronically draining, discouraging, and frustrating, your health could be at stake. Your career is an important part of your life, so if it's causing you harm, it's going to take a heavy toll.
To close out our collection of workplace mental health tips, check out our ultimate guide to finding work-life balance. Good luck, and take care of yourself!
If your job is too damaging to your mental health, you may need a new role. Start off your job search with expert guidance by getting a free CV critique.