May is Mental Health Awareness month. As it comes to an end, Exasol’s Employee Engagement Specialist, Heike Gläser, reflects on the importance of workplace culture in promoting good mental health and a positive work/life balance. She also gives her top tips on helping you manage stress and keeping your head in a productive place.
This past year has taught individuals and businesses alike that mental health, as well as physical wellness, is a precious commodity to be nurtured and savored. Time away from colleagues, not to mention friends and family, has been isolating for many, if not all, of us.
This, combined with general anxiety about the pandemic and the uncertain future we all face, has had an inevitable impact on how people feel and, as a consequence, on their productivity and success at work. As we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, there’s no better a time to talk about this hugely important issue: happiness at work.
As a recently appointed engagement and happiness specialist at Exasol, it’s literally my job to make sure people are fulfilled, engaged and happy at work. Or if they’re not, encourage them to talk about why, so we as a company can give them the resources and opportunities they need to be happier, and ultimately, healthier.
The value of people
I have a vested interest in this subject, not only because my role is directly related to it, but also because I’ve had my own personal journey with mental health and stress at work.
Throughout my career, which has spanned the music, movie and entertainment sectors, with positions ranging from rock band tour manager to Head of Sales, Promotion and HR at an artist management firm, I have learned so much about people and what keeps them happy and motivated.
Always an extrovert and a people person, I love getting to know the people I work with and have come to realize that, although perhaps a cliché, employees really are a company’s most valuable asset, and their happiness is directly linked to the business’ success.
But my journey hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had times when I’ve been burnt out, stressed and unable to fulfil my role to the standard required. And there’s no shame in that. Our happiness at work is not a ‘soft’ benefit or a ‘nice-to-have’ – it’s a necessity. Without it, we won’t do our best work, we won’t progress and ultimately, the business won’t get the best out of us. It’s in everybody’s interest to protect and champion good mental health and employee satisfaction.
Mental health awareness: a new ‘phenomenon’
And thank goodness we recognize this now. It hasn’t always been the case. Even ten years ago, mental health wasn’t really recognized or spoken about, and those who suffered from poor mental health or unhappiness at work were often sidelined or ignored due to this ‘taboo’ surrounding the the subject.
Now, thanks to a general societal shift towards understanding and supporting mental health, things are moving in the right direction. Many companies provide their employees with resources, services and outlets to discuss and work on their mental health, and the taboo is slowly diminishing, if not going away completely. At Exasol, the fact that my role exists at all is an incredible nod to the value the company places on its people and its commitment to their mental wellbeing.
How to engage
So, what is my role exactly? As employee engagement and happiness specialist, my job is to listen, facilitate conversation and take action to promote and improve employees’ mental health.
For new employees joining Exasol, a series of welcome meetings will always include a session with me, where I explain the resources we have in the business and who people can turn to if things get tough or they simply need a boost. We also introduce our company values to the new starters, my favourite of which is ‘Hearts And Minds’. This encourages everyone to:
“Be yourself – bring your quirkiness, sense of humor, and authentic self to work. Promote a culture of “safe”, open communications – be empathetic and respectful when providing feedback. Encourage work-life balance and personal health and well-being.”
As a tech company, it’s not surprising that we use technology as a vital tool to keep everyone engaged.
Special Slack channels give me the opportunity to share ad hoc ‘happy moments’ – simple tips or messages to encourage people to think about their mental health and take care of themselves. For a lot of our staff this is a comfortable and natural way to engage – Slack gives them a quick and safe means of communicating, keeping them in their comfort zone.
Mental health is for everyone
The beauty of my role is that I’m blind to job titles or status. It doesn’t matter if you’re a junior technician or a board director – we all have mental health.
I check in regularly with people at all levels across the business, just to keep them engaged and talking, and more importantly, thinking about their happiness at work. What could they be doing to make things better? What do they struggle the most with? What things could they do to ease the pressure or share the burden?
With this in mind, I want to finish this blog by sharing my top tips to keep mentally healthy at work, whether that’s in the office or at home:
- Take breaks!
It’s so important to break from your screen and your work, which can be a real challenge if you are in the middle of a busy project or are at home with no reason to leave your desk. Book slots in your diary to make time for yourself on a weekly, if not daily basis.
- Remember, lunch is a necessity, not a luxury
Working on an empty stomach won’t do you any good, and you’ll probably be less productive as a result. Try whenever you can to take a full break and leave your desk to have your lunch.
- Be kind to yourself
Whether this is having beautiful flowers or a candle on your desk, or allowing yourself time to read your favourite book between tasks.
- Set boundaries
Figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, and then communicate with your colleagues and managers so they are aware. Maybe you work much better on certain tasks in the morning, or always have a slump at 3pm. Own these little idiosyncracies – they are part of you and shouldn’t be ignored.
I hope these tips mean that you too can go about your day with a bit more happiness and balance in your life.
Heike Gläser is Exasol’s Employee Engagement Specialist. Her goal is to help Exasolians to be more productive, creative and balanced in their roles. Heike has previously worked in a range of positions, from project management to PR to marketing, but it wasn’t until she began to focus on engagement and wellbeing that she truly felt she’d found her calling.