‘Work to live, don’t live to work.’ ‘You can’t have all work and no play.’ ‘Work for the weekend.’ Despite all of our old clichés about finding a good work-life balance, most people still spend over 60% of their waking hours at work.1 Indeed, the pace and cost of our lives do not allow for much except full-time work. In addition, our self-worth is often tied up in our ability to be productive, efficient and financially successful. Meaningful work; however, does have the potential to fill us with a sense of purpose and drive. It allows us a chance to connect with other people, serve our communities and uncover new ideas. It is because of this that we must consider our physical and mental health while at work and ensure that we are striving for balance as much as possible. Statistics about workplace health indicate that we find it difficult to achieve this balance, with 58% of working Canadians reporting a sense of ‘overload’ with their many roles.2 Work is identified by almost half (47%) of Canadians as the most stressful part of their lives, with many feeling that their place of work is a source of depression, anxiety or substance use.1 These findings are significant, as employee burnout has a major impact on staff turnover, absentee rates, morale, company productivity and costs associated with health care.3
Employers should bear some responsibility for creating a psychologically safe workplace for their employees. The Mental Health Commission of Canada developed a national ‘standard’ for employers to use in order to create and maintain mentally healthy workplaces for their employees.4 To effectively implement this standard, employers should receive training in how to respond to employees in distress.1 Clear policies and procedures should be put in place that allow employees to report workplace health-related issues and that prevent discrimination towards employees experiencing mental health-related issues.1 Some practical strategies that employers can adopt to further promote workplace mental health include respecting employees’ limits on using technology after work hours,3 providing clear leadership and expectations, communicating with civility and respect, recognizing and rewarding employees’ work,5 encouraging employee participation and decision-making and providing training and learning opportunities.6
Employees can also be mindful of their own mental health in the workplace and that of their colleagues. Many of the strategies that employees can utilize to promote balance in the workplace revolve around open communication. Show care and concern for others, clarify issues that arise, seek out opportunities, share your opinions, offer alternatives and solutions, and consider how your behaviour could impact the psychological health and safety of your colleagues.7 Employees can be protective of their time and resources by scheduling breaks throughout the day, turning off electronic communications when at home, setting realistic priorities for themselves and saying ‘no’ to extra tasks when necessary.2 Attending to self-care needs can be another way to lessen the harmful effects of work-related stress and reduce the risk for depression.8 One ‘recipe’ for self-care, known as ‘NESTS’9 was initially created for women recovering from post-partum depression but can also be universally helpful. In the ‘NESTS’ acronym, each letter stands for one area of self-care: N – nutrition, E – exercise, S – sleep and rest, T – time for yourself and S – social support. This can serve as a helpful reminder to employees of the elements that are essential to incorporate in order to maintain wellness.
In Chilliwack, we are extremely lucky to have some amazing resources available to us that can help us in our quest to maintain mental health in the workplace. Our landscape provides us with endless opportunities for adventure, activity and connection to nature. Local farms and gardens offer us a beautiful array of nutritious foods to fuel our bodies and minds (see The Local Harvest10 or Aslan Organics11). Wellness centres are available to help us with our physical and mental health needs (see Thrive Collective12 or Restorative Health Chilliwack13). Local businesses have options available for making self-care a priority even amidst a busy work-day schedule (see Studio B Yoga14 or Club XO Fitness15 or Luna Float16). Our community is an excellent place to live AND to work. Take the time to reflect on your own mental health needs and incorporate some small steps into your workday that make you feel ‘well.’ Striving to find that balance in our lives is a difficult but essential task. It is ultimately a pursuit of health, happiness and peace.
~Maggie Shamro, RN BSN MSN
1 – Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace (2019). Mental health issues: Facts and figures. Retrieved from: https://www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/mental-health-issues-facts-and-figures
2 – Canadian Mental Health Association (2019). Work life balance – Make it your business. Retrieved from: https://cmha.ca/workplace/work-life-balance-make-it-your-business
3 – Mood Disorders Society of Canada (2019). Maintaining work life balance. Retrieved from: https://mdsc.ca/workplace/maintaining-work-life-balance/
4 – Mental Health Commission of Canada (2019). Workplace. Retrieved from: https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/what-we-do/workplace
5 – Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (2019). Mental health: Psychosocial risk factors in the workplace. Retrieved from: https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/mentalhealth_risk.html
6 – Government of Canada (2018). Mental health in the workplace. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/health-safety/mental-health.html
7 – Mental Health Commission of Canada (2019). Being a mindful employee. Retrieved from: https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/what-we-do/workplace
8 – HeretoHelp (2019). Depression in pregnancy and postpartum. Retrieved from: https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/visions/having-a-baby-vol7/depression-in-pregnancy-and-postpartum
9 – Haring, M., Smith, J., Bodnar, D. et al. (2011). Coping with depression during pregnancy and following the birth: A cognitive behaviour therapy-based self-management guide for women. Vancouver: BC Reproductive Mental Health Program.
Maggie Shamro is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Fraser Valley. She has a passion for mental health nursing and has been working in this field since 2006. She has held various nursing positions throughout BC (Prince George, Vancouver and Chilliwack) including inpatient psychiatry, emergency psychiatry, community mental health, crisis intervention and group therapy. Maggie has clinical expertise working with individuals in crisis and individuals living with mood and anxiety disorders. She has a special interest in student mental health and wellness and is an advocate for mental health awareness in university settings. Always striving to share her enthusiasm for mental health, Maggie has instructed nursing students at UBC and UFV. Maggie also enjoys spending time outdoors and has a strong connection to the rivers, mountains and forests in her hometown of Chilliwack.