The E’s/Ease of a Positive Work Environment
Here at MindWise, we spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing behavioral health and how organizations and communities can better support individuals who are struggling with mental health or substance use issues. We talk about how that support translates directly into benefits for the community as a whole. But now I’m going to look at what that’s like from the other side – what’s the perspective of the individual with a behavioral health condition in a workplace that respects and empowers them?
I’ve worked for MindWise and our parent organization Riverside Community Care for nearly five years. And I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for my entire adult life.
Encouragement, Empathy, & Empowerment
The pressures of the pandemic-stricken world have strained my abilities to cope with and manage by mental health to their limit. But through all of it, my experience in the workplace has consistently been one of encouragement, empathy, and empowerment – I call these the E’s (Ease?) of a positive work environment.
To be clear, my personal experiences with mental illness are not common knowledge among my coworkers – in fact, this blog is the first time I’m speaking openly about them in my workplace. I’ve kept quiet about my own behavioral health history not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed, and certainly not because of any worry about repercussions – till now, it just hasn’t come up as relevant (just as the facts that I’m an Eagle Scout or that I danced competitive ballroom in college are also probably new to most of my colleagues while still being important parts of my personal history).
Do We “Walk the Walk”?
Regardless of the status of my – or any of my coworker’s – behavioral health, we’re all in an organization that promotes a culture of mutual respect and gives us the space and flexibility to take care of ourselves. The question I’m really trying to get at is: how? How does MindWise foster this positive environment? The question’s often on my mind. MindWise is in the business of advising employers and equipping them with the tools to care and look out for the behavioral health of their workforces – do we “walk the walk” or do we just “talk the talk”?
There are many things that make MindWise and Riverside a good place to work – particularly in light of promoting behavioral health. Foremost among these is that our leadership (when not clinicians themselves) listen to the experts – the social workers, the psychiatrists, the psychologists, those with lived experience, and more. A key framework that’s come from these experts – and from which I benefit every day – is Safety, Predictability, and Control (SPC). SPC is a context for understanding stressors that may impact our mental health or substance use that also helps to manage and cope with stress.
The first thing that MindWise and Riverside have done is make me feel safe. Safe enough to write this blog post and speak openly about my personal struggles with behavioral health issues. Safely free of fear that I’ll be required to return to a physical workspace during the pandemic before I feel ready. Safe in my employment knowing that however difficult depression and anxiety might make my day-to-day at times, I will receive support rather than censure.
The predictability of SPC is about building consistency and trust. Every Wednesday morning, Riverside’s CEO and COO send an email to the entire organization updating us on how the pandemic is affecting Riverside, how Riverside is working to keep us physically safe and financially stable, and how individuals and teams across Riverside are finding ways to do our work effectively and positively in spite of “these trying times.” I look forward to this message every week, and I rely on it as an honest and dependable piece of communication.
Beginning on March 12, my immediate coworkers shifted from a committed and hardworking group of professionals to two demanding, unendingly-needy, and yet adorable young boys. My schedule shifted from roughly 9-5 to whenever-the-heck-I-can-get-enough-quiet-to-think. Some days I work for a couple hours before 6am, some nights I get right on my laptop after the boys’ bedtime, sometimes I attend meetings while one of my “coworkers” types novel-length blocks of gibberish text into Zoom chat windows, and some weekends I sneak a few hours of spreadsheets or editing while my “coworkers” nap or play. Regardless how or when I get my work done, I’m in control of my schedule.
I’m also in control of my own self-care. Right on up the chain of my managers, I know that I’m trusted to get done what I need to get done (or to come to them for support and guidance). And I’m trusted to take the time I need to manage my behavioral health. I don’t have to air it out for all to see (which, ironically, I’m doing now), but neither must I conceal it, cover it up, or make excuses for it.
The Mutual Value of SPC
What these three elements – the comforting knowledge that my safety need not come into question, the reassuring predictability of regular, trustworthy updates, and the opportunity to maintain a sense of control over my day-to-day schedule – what SPC has done for me is give me the space to take care of myself and to manage my reactions to the multitude of stressors of mid-pandemic life. And because I know that my workplace has my back, I’m all the more committed to being a hardworking, collaborative, and compassionate member of the team.