By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple ideas that you can use to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing every day, based on quality research.
This is Episode 87 and this week I’m talking about work. In this episode I’ll cover what good mental health at work is all about, why it’s important, and how to manage your work life for better mental health. So, let’s talk about mental health!
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the full transcript.
Watch Episode 25 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV — in this latest episode I’m sharing life hacks for dealing with stress.
Watch it below or visit the channel on YouTube:
This podcast episode was originally released on 11 July, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 87, and thanks so much for joining me!
This week is all about managing your mental health at work, and it’s a two-part episode in the sense that I’m exploring the topic in detail here on the podcast, then I’ll be sharing extra tips on YouTube in a video that’s coming out on Wednesday the 14th of July — more on that a little bit later.
Before I begin today, in this week’s episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube I’m sharing life hacks for dealing with stress, which ties in quite nicely to the whole work topic but also applies to every aspect of your life. I share a new video every week on YouTube and the content is completely different than what I cover here; I know many of you prefer listening to podcasts however I would really appreciate your support by subscribing to my channel on YouTube so that the show can grow there and reach more people who might benefit from simple ideas for better mental health. Videos are usually only about 10 minutes long so it’s nice and quick for an extra dose of inspiration each week, and you can watch the latest video now at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au — you’ll find the link in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on.
Two other quick updates as well: first, this podcast is now available on Amazon Music as well so hello to anyone listening to me there and welcome to the family! And speaking of the Let’s Talk About Mental Health family, I recently pulled the listener data for the first time in nearly two months and I was shocked (in a good way!) to discover that I now have listeners in 145 countries worldwide as well as an additional 16 provinces or territories that are not formally recognised as countries. Thank you all so very, very much for tuning in and for helping me to share simple ideas for better mental health every single week — I really do appreciate every single one of you, and I’m working behind the scenes to look at ways I can add more value for all of you wonderful people while I’m also creating more of a sense of community around Let’s Talk About Mental Health, so keep an eye out for some new announcements over the next few weeks and months.
So, with all of that covered, on with this week’s episode about work…
In 1983, Donna Summer sang that she works hard for the money; so hard for it, honey. Regardless of whether you identify as she, he or they, most of us do all work pretty hard for the money in one shape or form, and ‘work’ is a massive part of life for the majority of the population.
I talk a lot in this show about good mental health taking time, effort and perseverance, and what you may not know is that originally I used the word ‘work’ instead of ‘effort’, but I decided to change it because the idea of improving your mental health through ‘work’ can make it sound like it’s really hard (for the record, it can definitely be tough and challenging, but I don’t think it’s hard because to me that’s a negative description — more on that later!).
Look, I have a lot to say on this subject because I, like many of you, have worked in some toxic work environments in the past, and I know firsthand what it feels like to be over-worked, under-appreciated and lacking in support or general understanding. Those environments can eat away at your soul and make it very hard to find the will to drag yourself out of bed every day.
Whatever you do for a living, work takes up an enormous amount of time for most of us and the way we feel about our work, along with how it affects our sense of wellbeing and even our lives in general, will have a direct impact on your mental health. If you work somewhere that is toxic or you’re doing a job that makes you feel absolutely miserable, that’s bound to have a negative effect on how you feel in general… whereas working somewhere that is supportive and doing work that feels meaningful to you can improve your overall wellbeing.
So let’s start with some definitions…
What does ‘good mental health at work’ mean?
The idea of good mental health at work is a really broad one, and it’s going to vary somewhat from person to person, but I think that in general we’re talking about having strategies and practices in place for your job and in your workplace that enable you to feel good about what you do and how you do it, and to have support mechanisms as well as understanding from others (including your manager) if there are challenges or issues. I think there are a few common signs of a healthy work environment, such as:
- feeling supported and respected by your peers and your leader;
- being able to talk to your leader about problems and challenges, either at work or at home (or both), without any fear of judgement;
- being able to be your authentic self at work (which usually still involves being professional, but doing so in a way that taps into your unique strengths as an individual); and also it’s about,
- having a workplace culture where it’s not just about the results that you deliver, but also the way you deliver them (in other words, where the way you behave is considered to be just as important as the results you achieve)
Whereas an unhealthy work environment is one where there is a lot of negativity, gossip-mongering, backstabbing, and general shitty behaviour — it’s a cut-throat environment where it’s every person for themselves, or one where there’s a distinct lack of concern for the way people behave as long as they achieve results.
Having good mental health at work doesn’t mean that you’re always going to be happy in your job, nor does it mean that you won’t face challenges from time to time, but what it means is that you have effective coping strategies and support systems in place so that, on the whole, your work feels manageable.
When I was talking at the end of last week’s episode about what topic I was covering this week, I said that employers definitely have a duty of care to provide a workplace that is safe, positive and supportive (which they absolutely do); however, I also mentioned that you have just as much responsibility. Because for each of us, not only do we need to be mindful of how our words and actions are contributing to and shaping the world around us, but we also have free will and so how we manage our time at work is going to heavily influence our mental health and wellbeing. If you’re checked out and completely over your job, that’s going to translate into your work and the quality will suffer, which in turn will very likely lead to performance conversations as well as just a general feeling of crappiness at work. I’ll be covering that a bit more later, but let me just say here that disliking or even hating your job is nobody’s responsibility to resolve but yours — you are in full control of your words and actions, so if you hate your job then it’s time to get the hell out of there rather than letting the situation just leech away every last ounce of happiness from you. More on that later. First, though, let’s talk about…
Why good mental health at work is important
And to state the obvious: we spend so much time at work that feeling bad about what we do or where we do it is going to make you feel like crap. And who the hell has time for that?! Look, we all have bills to pay but seriously… if you feel utterly miserable every time you go to work or if you feel like you have to sell your soul to get through the day then you’re probably going to find that your sense of wellbeing will suffer.
And the thing about your work is that it doesn’t just affect your work life; it has a direct impact on every aspect of your life such as your relationship with your partner if you’re attached or with your kids if you’re a parent, not to mention your relationships with family, friends, neighbours, acquaintances… hell, even random strangers, because people who feel miserable often tend to take that out on other people whether they realise it or not.
According to Mind UK, “[at] least one in six workers is experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression [in the United Kingdom],” and you’ll find the link for that in the transcript (https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-at-work/taking-care-of-yourself/), and that statistic is a broad indication of how common mental health challenges are at work regardless of what country you’re in.
So the broad piece to think about here is that by looking after your mental health at work every day, you’ll be better equipped to deal with challenges when they arise and you’ll be able to find greater satisfaction in what you do, which will have a positive effect on all the other areas of your life. But how do you do that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this week’s episode…
How to manage your work life for better mental health
And I’m going to start with the biggest one of all which is…
Never stay in a job you hate — which is a tough one, I know, but we need to talk about this first and foremost. Look, it would be great if we could all love our jobs and I do believe that is something that we should be striving for, but I’m also practical enough to know that we all have to pay those bills so if we’re holding out to be an astronaut but we have no skills in that field, then reality dictates we’re going to have to earn money somehow and it might end up being a job that we’re not completely in love with, which frankly I think is OK. But the point here is that if you have strong feelings of hatred for your job, pull the emergency cord and get out now — because that is going to absolutely suck the life out of you if you stay there. You can always find another job, even in the short term, or even do contract work while you find something that doesn’t make you want to poke your eyeballs out every morning. OK, so with that out of the way, let’s now talk about some more positive bits of advice, starting with…
Figure out a healthy work/life balance and stick to it — balance is the foundation of good mental health (so much so that I’ve covered it twice here on the podcast; once in Episode 14 and then I talked more specifically about finding balance in Episode 49). The thing here is to recognise that you have a life outside of work and so you need to consider how you create and maintain a healthy balance between home and work. For example, work your hours rather than putting in lots of extra incidental time (like that extra hour you spend on the train doing emails, or when you try to catch up on work during your lunch break — all of that is adding up and eating into your quality time). Which brings me to…
Leave work at work — keep your work and personal life separate, because imbalance can quickly create issues in one or both aspects of your life. When you take work home (either physically or mentally) you’ll find that it quickly seeps into more and more of your down time, which is when you should be resting and recharging your batteries.
Define yourself by more than just your job title — I’ve talked about this in previous episodes and it has a lot to do with how we define success, which I explored in Episode 74. The thing is that you are much more than what you do for work, however for many of us we’ve fallen into this ridiculous trap of our work being the main thing about us; think about whenever you meet new people, and one of the first things most people ask you is, “What do you do?” Choose to define yourself less by what you do and more by how you do it and who you are as a person, because that’s the stuff that matters most. Which leads me to a potentially-controversial point…
Be objective about your employment — because the harsh reality is that so many of us define ourselves by what we do and who we work for, and when push comes to shove you’ll find that most employers do not consider any of their employees to be irreplaceable. I’m not trying to dent your ego or anything, but you know that they can and will survive without you, don’t you? And unfortunately that’s something that comes as a bit of a shock when we decide to leave or, worse yet, if we find ourselves facing redundancy or we need to leave due to personal issues or illness. Why I’m saying all of that is that it’s essential to know those harsh truths because it then helps you to be far more objective about your situation and just less weighed down by the weight of responsibility. I mean, give 100% at all times in your job, but you need to look after yourself and look out for yourself (because if you don’t, who will?).
Next, deal with stress as soon as possible — because stress is something that can very quickly spiral out of control if it’s left to fester (and the only time festering is good is in The Addams Family). There are many different things you can do to tackle stress and I explored the topic in detail back in Episode 8 of the podcast, along with Episode 25 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV over on YouTube, so check those out for more advice. Because what I want to focus on for a bit now is about how you manage your work to feel more in-control, which will itself help to reduce stress. Let’s start with:
Plan your time — back in 1919 the Reverend H.K. Williams said, “if you fail to prepare you are preparing to fail” and the thing about our time at work is that there are so many different demands on us that it’s very easy to let it spiral out of control, which can then lead us to feel overwhelmed, which then leads to stress and anxiety, which leads to flow-on effects in other areas of our life and even, potentially, unhealthy coping mechanisms. So here are a few bits of advice to help you plan your time and make the most of the time you do have available at work:
- Spend five minutes at the start of each day to plan the main 3-5 things (big or small) that you need to achieve — try not to load too many things onto your list, and if necessary park some things until later
- Minimise time wasters, like meetings — seriously, have you ever been sitting in a meeting that just dragged on and on while you thought, “this could have been an email!” Where possible, try to minimise those situations.
- Limit your email usage — if you can pick the phone up or walk over and talk to someone, do that instead of emailing them (that also helps instead of meeting them)… because email might seem more efficient but you’ll find the conversation often drags on and it takes much longer than a simple one or two minute discussion might. Speaking of…
- Treat email as a tool, not your master — unless you work in email-based customer service, nobody is measuring your performance by how quickly you respond to emails… so why do we so often behave like it’s the Olympics and we’re in the 100-metre-respond-the-fastest? At the very least, turn off those annoying notifications that pop up and ding every time a new mail arrives; that noise and alert will distract you from whatever you’re doing and then it can be really hard to return your focus to the task at hand. And please, remember that you do not need to respond to every single email that you receive as soon as you get it, and that 1-2 business days is a reasonable response time (and for the love of puppies, DO NOT ever, ever hit ‘reply all’ to an email!). I recommend for emails having two or three dedicated time slots for handling both emails and administration tasks; I do 30 minutes at the beginning of the day (which is also when I plan out my day), then 15 minutes around lunchtime, and another 30 minutes at the end of the day to then wrap up as much as I possibly can. Speaking of blocks of time…
- Block out time in your calendar to actually get work done — and this is about ensuring you actually have the time you need to do the job you’re employed for, because that is your number one priority!
- Batch like-tasks together — it can be really difficult to jump around between different types of tasks, which is why grouping similar tasks together can be much more efficient. For example, I don’t film my YouTube videos one by one each week; I have a block of a few hours to do all the research and writing one day, then another day I’ll have a few hours dedicated just to filming four to six episodes together, and then on another day still I’ll spend a few hours just focused on editing. These are all very different skills and when you’re able to really focus on similar tasks it can be much more efficient, and you’ll often find yourself entering a state of flow where things become easier and you become much more focused.
So now I’d like to share a few more general things for you to consider, including:
Choose your mindset at work — which was the topic of Episode 31 on the podcast, and at work it’s about consciously choosing how you view things. For example, you can either see something as being ‘hard’ or ‘difficult’, or you can reframe it as a challenge. Now, that’s not just me playing with words; a challenge is something that stimulates you and tests your abilities, so it’s a much more positive way of looking at things. I’ve had many times throughout my different careers where I’ve come up against an obstacle that has forced me to look at things from a totally different angle, and along the way I’ve been able to build skills that have then helped me to grow. How you choose to view work — as either tough or, instead, as challenging — is totally up to you. Speaking of ‘choice’…
Choose your focus — what you focus on is what you focus on, which is what I discussed last week in Episode 86 of the podcast. Choose to look for solutions rather than problems, and choose to identify and focus on your strengths (because the more you do that, the greater your confidence will be in the work that you do). Another example of that is choosing to be present, which was the subject of Episode 83 of the podcast so check that out for more on the topic. My next point is…
Invest the time to build a healthy working relationship with your manager (if you have one) — and this might sound a bit odd, but hear me out! Healthy relationships are two-way, and often at work we seem to default into these roles where our manager is expected to do all of the work in terms of leading us… which is, quite frankly, a recipe for disaster. Managers are people, just like you and I, and so they cannot read minds nor do they just instinctively know how you like to be led. So, tell them. Take the time to connect with them and seek to understand how you can help them to achieve what they need to achieve in their role, and let them know how to get the best out of you as well as what support you need to be your best at work. These types of conversations can be a bit awkward at first, but if you’re able to come together and find ways to work towards common goals then you’ll begin to build a healthy working relationship. If you’re struggling with the idea of this type of conversation, check out Episode 45 about assertiveness. Next…
Look after all aspects of your health and wellbeing every day — and that means your physical, mental, spiritual, social, emotional and financial health, because these are all the core aspects of your wellbeing. Come up with a daily wellness routine for all six areas; for example, to look after your physical health focus on eating well, sleeping well and moving your body every day.
And if you’re working from home, set and maintain clear boundaries — that means sticking to your hours and having a dedicated workspace, so that you can leave your work at work when you’re finished for the day. I talked about boundaries in Episode 53 and in fact that is a topic that’s relevant to pretty much all of your working life as well, because it’s about setting and sticking to those limits in order to focus on your priorities in life (which I covered in Episode 3).
I’m almost at the end of the tips but before I cover my last tip, for more advice you can check out the episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV about better mental health at work which is out on Wednesday July 14; you’ll find the link in the episode description or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au.
And so my final tip is: ask for help if you need it — if you’re struggling with your workload, speak to your manager or colleagues and ask for assistance. If you’re going through personal challenges, speak to someone. If you’re not comfortable with talking to your manager, find someone you are comfortable with; many employers have confidential counselling services available (often called things like an employee assistance program) so that you can get support if you need it. Or you might decide to partner with a coach, counsellor or therapist on your own outside of work so that you can be proactive about addressing challenges you might be facing. Whatever you choose to do, just remember that you do not have to go through difficult times alone — nor should you.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to work and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: You are not defined by what you do for work; you are defined by how you do it. When it comes to our working lives, we can choose to bring the very best version of ourselves possible into our work in terms of doing no harm, being kind, and giving more than we take… and when we do that, we can be more authentic and more at peace with who we are both at work and at home. By choosing to focus on creating and maintaining good mental health at work, you’ll find that it has a positive flow-on effect into every aspect of your life such as your family relationships, your sense of calm, and even your ability to find purpose and meaning in the seemingly-mundane.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by an unknown author, and it is:
“A job is a job. It’s a way to pay for a living, but that’s it. Don’t let it define your happiness. You work to live, not live to work.”Unknown
Next week I’ll be talking about conflict. From time to time we will inevitably experience conflict with other people, whether it’s at work or at home, in our friendships or even with members of our family. Conflict can be upsetting and stressful, and when there are emotional connections involved it can be even more devastating. So how do you deal with conflict? Well, next week I’ll be talking about what conflict is, why understanding conflict is important, and how to manage conflict in a healthy manner.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday 18th of July. And join me for Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube, with new episodes released every Wednesday.
Head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for links and all past episodes and, while you’re there, join the mailing list for my weekly newsletter. You can also find the website links in the description of this episode on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on.
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
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