BY: Henry High
Most of us spend about a third of our time at work to make a living. Since we spend so much time at work, it stands to reason that the workplace has a significant impact on our mental health. How we function or are asked to function at work will affect how we view ourselves and this carries over into our private lives. The following are several very informal guidelines that should e considered to keep the stress of work to a minimum and to enhance our mental health. Suggestions for the employer and the employee are provided under separate headings, since they work from such a different perspective.
Employer: Communicate clearly with your employees. Develop job descriptions. Don’t expect employees to read your mind. Nothing builds stress quicker in employees than being put in the ‘no win’ position of not knowing what the rules are, but being expected to play the work game. Frustrated employees don’t learn, perform or stay.
Employee: Have a clear understanding of your job. If you don’t have a clear understanding, ask for help. If you can’t get the idea of what you are supposed to be doing, your training may not have been sufficient, or you may not be suited to the job. It is better to be clear about this, than to be mismatched to your job and be miserable.
Employer: Unless you are a one person shop, you have employees. You have them because you need them to do work that makes your business more efficient. This means you will be giving employees a certain amount of responsibility. Be sure that the authority is also given along with the responsibility. To give an employee the job of doing something, without giving them the authority to execute that job, is to induce frustration and undue stress. Undue stress eats up profits.
Employee: If your employer has given you responsibility and authority, you are obligated to give him or her back accountability. This means that your employer should know what you are doing. Employers that begin to feel that they have lost track of what employees are up to will begin to be unduly stressed. And employers have a knack for sharing their stress with everyone around them.
Employer: Take suggestions. Employees will do cartwheels for the employer who is wise enough to take a good idea, and use it to make work more productive. In line with this, having an open door policy also gives employees a feeling that they can be heard. The open door gives the employee the opportunity to express themselves and clear the air.
Employee: Take work seriously. Look for ways to be more productive. These make work flow more smoothly, even if the employer doesn’t appear to notice. When your employer is open to suggestions, make them. Anything that makes the business more profits assures that the business and your job will be stable. You can do a great job, but it the business goes bust, so do you.
Employer: Don’t tolerate goofing off, but don’t press too hard either. Encourage breaks but encourage real breaks where people get up and move to a different location. Find out about relaxation techniques that can be done quickly and train employees in these methods. Under the best circumstances, work builds stress and without real breaks employees begin to break.
Employee: When it’s time to break, break. Stop working and relax. Warning; sometimes breaks produce more stress if they are taken with cantankerous people. Don’t use this time for gossip or scheming how to get rid of ‘old so and so.’ Such activities rarely bring success, and only get everyone upset. A better plan is to have a buddy or friend to break with who is nice to be around and who makes the break more relaxing.
Employer: Express concern for your employees. Engage in small acts of random kindness. Smile often. When you feel grumpy, determine not to let it get out of hand.
Employee: Take care with your coworkers not to take offense or be offending. Offer to do little things for each other that make the workplace more harmonious. This may not get you a raise, but you won’t dread going in on Monday morning.
Employer and Employee: Realize that you need each other. Don’t fight this idea, but embrace it, and use it to show respect for each other. In line with this, follow the best guideline for all human relationships and “do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Henry High, M.S. is a therapist at Region III Mental Health Center.