This is a 3-part blog series on “Mental Health in the Workplace”:
Part 1: 3 Challenges of promoting mental health and wellbeing after the holidays in a post-pandemic workplace
It‘s the beginning of January; there’s a buzz and chatter around the lunchroom watercooler as employees return to their in-person workplaces after the holiday break. However, this year, for many remote and hybrid workers, this post-holiday buzz and chatter will be experienced by gathering around a figurative watercooler in the rectangular boxes of a video conferencing platform. Regardless of the medium, colleagues are likely to engage in the post-holiday sharing of vacation pictures, recounting their time with family and friends, and discussing their New Year’s resolutions. However, among all the well-intentioned (virtual) hugs and wishes of happiness, health and success for the New Year, the return to the workplace can be significantly more challenging for some employees.
January 2023 may be the first time that many employees are returning to various formats of post-pandemic in-person, remote, or hybrid workplaces after the December holiday break. While promoting and ensuring a psychologically safe workplace is important for employers to always do, it can be even more crucial during the first few months of the year. This means that employers, employees, and colleagues can help make the return back to work more manageable by tackling three potential challenges of returning to a post-pandemic workplace after the holidays.
1. Pressure to participate in a post-holiday workplace
For some employees, the challenges they experience mentally, physically, or emotionally may be exacerbated during the holiday season. The feelings of guilt for financial indulgence, loneliness, the pressure of setting and keeping up with new year’s resolutions, and other personal challenges can contribute to a sense of regret that negatively affects some employees’ experience in returning to the office. Furthermore, some employees may feel pressured to participate and contribute to the high-energy and positivity of the post-holiday conversations with colleagues, by suppressing their own emotions and feelings during this time.
2. Less in-person connection with colleagues in post-pandemic remote/hybrid workplaces
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has blurred the lines that divide home and work. This means employees have far fewer in-person connections with each other in remote or hybrid working environments. When employees do interact with one another, the interactions are shorter, more focused on work deliverables and less on relationship-building and can feel distant because of commonly used virtual video communication tools which may make the work environment feel less human. These forms of workplace interactions risk making employees feel isolated from their teams or work environments.
Employers may also assume they have fewer responsibilities and obligations to ensure safe work environments when employees work from home. It’s easy for employers and colleagues to fall into an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality when it comes to integrating remote workers in different locations into the hybrid workplace. Recognizing the bias towards in-person employees and implementing internal checks and balances to ensure equal participation from all employees is a great starting point to ensuring the promotion of psychologically safe and inclusive workplaces.
3. Returning to post-holiday workloads
Moreover, the thought of returning to work and having to attend to the pending workload from the holidays may also heighten an employee’s feelings of stress, anxiety, or other mental health illnesses. Although it can be difficult to identify a person experiencing anxiety or depression, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) offers a non-exhaustive list of behavioural signs which indicate an employee or colleague may potentially be experiencing depression, anxiety or other mental health illnesses:
· Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed and/or social withdrawal
· Fatigue, trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
· Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
· Changes in appetite, overeating or not eating enough
· Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
· Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, and/or trembling
· Feeling nervous, irritable or on edge
· Sense of impending danger, panic or doom
· Increased heart rate
Fortunately, employers, employees, and their colleagues can all play an essential role in recognizing the signs that a person may be experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health illnesses in the workplace. Having candid and respectful conversations about mental health after the holidays in a post-pandemic hybrid/remote workplace can help to do three important things:
(1) It can provide meaningful support to colleagues who experience mental health issues when returning to a post-pandemic workplace after the holiday season,
(2) It reduces the stigma surrounding mental health issues that some colleagues may be facing during this time of the year, and
(3) It encourages a healthier environment for employees to work better together, reduce workplace conflicts, and promote efficiency and productivity within the workplace.
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