October 4, 2017

Marianne Clyde: It’s National Mental Health Awareness Week — here’s why this is a big deal for employers

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Courtesy Angel Publicity

Marianne Clyde

Providing good quality mental health and emotional intelligence training for employees is not just a compassionate move, but also a wise strategic move for an organization.

All the research lately behind how happy employees are more engaged and more productive should be evidence of that in itself. According to one study, about 75 percent of managers recognize the need to provide support to employees, but not all companies offer such training. It could be that you don’t know where to start or who to believe.

Maybe you think it’s too expensive or time consuming.

Giving employees the opportunity to strengthen their own sense of self and value, teaching them to embrace emotionally intelligent concepts such as respect for self and others, gratitude, forgiveness, effective communication, responsiveness instead of reactiveness and effective coping skills under stress is clearly to your benefit.

What if everyone in your workplace was healthy mentally, emotionally and had enhanced relationship skills?

What if everyone in your workplace could lower their stress, increase their attention span and experience less negative mood?

Picture, if you will, a workplace full of people who take time everyday to listen to the wisdom within, calm their stress, and look for the positive in others, wouldn’t that make for a more productive workplace?

These are the results found through a recent study on the effectiveness of meditation by some faculty members at the University of Arizona:

“We found that those in the meditation group…showed greater time on task and a reduced number of task-switches post-training as compared with pre- training. This appears to be an implicit effect of the meditation training.”

“Meditators also showed improved memory for the details of the work they were doing in the post-training multitasking test compared to their performance in the pre-training test…once they received the meditation training, they…demonstrated improved memory. …To what might this improved memory be attributed? We conjecture that it was the result of reduced stress. Laboratory studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between increased stress and reduced memory.”

“[After] meditation-training…there was less negative mood…Since mindfulness meditation has been linked to enhanced emotion regulation, it is possible that the meditators were better able to modulate their emotional responses to the stressful multitasking test they were performing.”

See the full results of the study here

I know from personal experience that when I misplace something, like my car keys, it’s much easier for me to remember where they are if I relax and take a deep breath first. Same thing goes for studying for a test or for trying to remember a phone number or a recipe. If you stress your brain by forcing it to work too hard, the stress will overpower the parts of the brain responsible for memory.

Less negative mood means that people would be more patient and understanding, less reactive and less complaining, which only takes up time and brain space that could be used for productive work like the task at hand. It also would enhance relationships, so there would be fewer incidents of employee bickering and conflict. And since the meditators showed better attention spans and focus on a task, there is less unproductive thought-wandering and frivolous time spent on unimportant things!

Here are some suggestions that don’t cost a lot, don’t take a lot of time investment, but have beneficial results. You can still provide support if you aren’t in a position to hire a full time psychotherapist for your staff. Of course, keep in mind that these are suggestions for strengthening one’s coping skills; it is not therapy.

Bring in a meditation trainer to teach employees how to meditate and why it’s beneficial. Provide a room or space, if possible, for your people to spend break times in meditation. Or you can even have people keep a self-report, and reward time reported spent in quiet reflection. This encourages refreshed outlooks and stress reduction.

Find a book you like that covers the topics that will result in the outcomes you want, and buy it for each of your employees.  Find a responsible leader to head up a lunchtime book club to discuss these topics. You might even find a series of these kinds of books to study throughout the year, providing a regular diet of healthy thinking and new coping mechanisms.

Encourage gratitude among workers by providing small notebooks for each employee to keep on his/her desk. Other employees would be instructed to look for things to be grateful for in that person and write it in their notebook. You can give a prize each month for the person who writes the most thank you messages and the ones that receive the most gratitude. This encourages employees to focus on the positive.  What you focus on increases.

Since exercise is also a great stress reducer, you might provide fit bits and institute an interoffice contest for the most steps. Providing gym memberships is also a way to encourage good physical health.

It’s also a good idea to have a list of reputable therapists available. You can publish it in the company newsletter or post in on the bulletin board, so someone can get the help they need if, in fact, they need more support.

These ideas create an environment in which it is OK to talk about mental health, encourage healthy practices and give your employees options to grow and prosper. You, on the other hand, will benefit by getting better engagement, more time on task, more positive relationships among coworkers and your bottom line will thank you.

Marianne Clyde is an expert in mental health in the workplace. Speaking to businesses and associations  about empowerment, team building and relationship networking, she is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, in practice for over 27 years, energizing speaker and dauntless world traveler. She lived in Japan for over 8 years and has spent time in at least 20 developing countries, teaching about recovery from trauma, personal empowerment and interpersonal relationships.

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