Knowledge is power

Knowledge is power

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health has been rightly placed front and centre of the workplace refocus. More than 30% of adult South Africans suffer from some sort of mental health issue, affecting their ability to think clearly and process their thoughts logically. This, in turn, can negatively affect their outward behaviours and decision-making, which are especially important in the workplace. Hope isn’t lost, however …

Coach and trainer Mariet Visser is the co-founder of We Do Change: a team of experts who focus on system design for value flow, organisational agility and process facilitation, coaching and training, and strategy and communications.

Visser is on a mission to empower individuals and businesses to take control of their mental health by creating small but effective changes in the workplace. She shares some Agile Principles popular in coaching, and entry-level training options employers and employees can use to support anyone suffering from mental health issues.

Learn how to STOP

Looking after your mental health starts with learning and applying skills such as mindfulness, as this helps create a presence within oneself and increases your ability to become more self-aware. One tool Visser learnt years ago was the STOP skill, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn: an acronym that stands for Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and then Proceed.

Even if it’s just getting up from your desk to make a cup of coffee, by pausing momentarily you allow yourself to take a breath, which acts as an anchor to the present moment. During this short respite, you can see what is happening both inside and outside yourself, and assess what you are doing and how you are feeling. Use the information gained during this check-in to either continue your course, or change it.

Know the difference between reacting and responding

A healthy mind can make all the difference when it comes to your reactions. Knowing the difference between reacting instinctively or impulsively and choosing to respond with guided thinking and reasoning is very important.

Knowing and becoming self-aware of your behaviour will give you an honest indication of your reactions, and signal when you should pay closer attention to your mental health and wellness.

Focus on one thing at a time

A key value that the Agile way of working teaches is to focus on one thing at a time. We are constantly distracted by others and the environment, as well as our own thought processes. Even the smallest of distractions, like receiving a text, email, or meeting request, or even the mere thought of multitasking, can play negatively on our mental health, creating what is referred to as scattered brain syndrome or attention deficit disorder.

This essentially means that distractions make it difficult for us to stay in the present moment, to concentrate, or to switch off. Taking small steps can really help improve your focus and productivity and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed and disorganised. These can include silencing the notifications on your device, journaling your feelings on paper, and making a permanent, physical, and visual to-do list that you can systematically work through one item at a time.

The critical role of an employer 

Providing the right support for employees who suffer from mental health issues is important for businesses of all shapes and sizes. There is plenty of research showing that poor mental health can lead to a whole host of issues in the workplace, such as decreased productivity, unhealthy working relationships between colleagues, and increased sickness-related absenteeism. It can also greatly compromise workplace safety.

Visser urges all business owners and organisations to implement proactive mental health support by:

Breaking the stigma surrounding mental health
Everyone needs to know that it is okay to not feel okay.

Creating a safe working space
It’s scary to open up, share your feelings, and talk about something personal to you, as this can make you feel vulnerable. Employees need to feel comfortable to talk about their mental health, feel supported, and know how to ask for help. Ensure that the working environment caters for this.

Being a mental health advocate
Managers tend to model the behaviour they wish to see in their organisation when it comes to working hard and being honest and punctual. This should also extend to mental health. By being the first to address your own mental health issues, you make it possible for others to take that first step.

Learning to recognise and acknowledge the needs of your team
Often our real needs are hidden behind our complaints and frustrations. Listening more closely can be a huge help in identifying the needs and cries for help behind what people say out loud.

Consider coaching support
Organisations like We Do Change can help to navigate and manage interpersonal relationships in your team and improve team members’ ways of working. Done consistently and well, professional coaching can do wonders in uplifting personal growth and team productivity, as well as improving morale and general employee wellness.

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