It’s the usual busy Monday at Planet Tech. As employees chart their plan of action for the week, let’s zoom into the lives of three.
Dahlia returns to the office after another chaotic weekend at home. She recently had to take out a loan to cover some financial debt and is working overtime to pay her dues. Dahlia is burnt out and overwhelmed at work. She hides the stress that she’s carrying with a smile, and along with it the heavy fear of being perceived as weak if she dares to let her guard down.
On the other side of the room sits John, a new joiner diagnosed with a chronic auto-immune disease. John struggles to communicate his needs and is afraid of disclosing his illness. John is also in a constant inner battle with his fear of being perceived as weak and an outcast in the workplace.
In the adjacent meeting room, Miriam just completed their presentation for the client with confidence. Underneath a poised exterior, they wrestle with Impostor syndrome which leaves them with a sense of anxiety, a persistent belief of not being good enough, and a voice that whispers at them, calling them ‘a fraud/an impostor’.
What do all of these instances have to do with the workplace?
The answer is everything. Mental health at the workplace is everyone’s business.
A report by Deloitte outlined a 2019 estimate from WHO predicting that between 2012 and 2030, businesses in India alone will experience economic losses of around US$1.03 trillion due to poor mental health conditions of the workforce.
Managers and leadership may understand the importance and benefits of building an organisation’s emotional culture in theory but often refrain from its practical implementation as they may believe that emotions have no room in the fast-paced workplace environment. Companies fail to realise that every organisation has an emotional culture, even if it’s one of denial.
Recently, at Serein we have designed content for sessions on how leadership can make emotional inclusion a part of their everyday values and communications.
A notable and important topic of discussion in these workshops is emotional masking.
Masking at the workplace, as the name suggests, is when an employee masks their feelings and often does not feel comfortable or safe enough to show up as their authentic selves to the workplace. Masking can result in employees not asking the important questions or refraining from sharing their perspectives.
Masking can also look like employees hiding their true selves due to fear of social rejection and judgement.
These seemingly subtle outcomes may not only create a threat to your organisation’s overall psychological safety but also hurt the individual’s well-being.
In a workplace with a suppressed emotional culture or a culture drowned in fear, in order to fit in, employees continue to wear masks which can even leave them in a state of cognitive dissonance i.e a state where they are forced to act in ways that are not in alignment with their belief system.
Masking can get very tiring for the user and has the power to easily develop into a source of mental drain for its wearers.
Imagine a different workplace scenario: A workplace where the mask is not essential but rather an option. A workplace where Dahlia feels safe enough to share the stress of tight deadlines, John can voice their concerns about the system, and Miriam can openly discuss their anxiety without fear.
Everybody brings their emotions to work. You bring your brain to work, you bring your emotions to work. After all, it’s time to give our emotions a seat on the table.
Here are a few measures that leaders could put into motion to address masking in the workplace;
- Encourage open dialogue
As an employer, your responsibility doesn’t end with EAP programs, mental health days, and wellness sessions. The stigma around mental health is still rampant and employers need to step up their efforts. Implementation of a pro-mental health culture should take a both top-down and bottom-up approach. Leaders should make mental health a priority and accountability must be taken. Employees should be empowered to form peer-to-peer support groups, become mental health champions, and have access to a work environment where they feel safe enough to engage in open conversations about mental health.
- Utilise your 1-1s beyond just discussing work-related updates
Go beyond the usual “How’s the task coming along” or “What’s the update?” Use your 1-1s to check in on your team. Allow the meeting to be a safe space for your employees to speak, ask questions, and share their thoughts and challenges.
Practise active listening in your conversations by creating a safe environment i.e. removing distractions (electronic devices etc.) from the physical environment, observing their non-verbal cues, and understanding and acknowledging their emotions in a non-judgemental manner.
- Lead by example by practising empathetic communication and encouraging vulnerability
Learn the art of empathetic communication. Leaders can also practise being an ally by choosing to be vulnerable and sharing one’s own personal experiences.
That being said, recent statistics indicate that employees are actively stepping up, recognizing their rights to a psychologically safe workplace. There is a reported increase in demand for workplaces that actively prioritise psychological safety and mental health. Emulating the same, a study by Oracle found that 78 percent of employees, managers, human resource leaders, and C-Suite executives across 11 countries believed that companies should step up their efforts to protect the mental health of their employees.
Empathy is not often an innate quality. Being an empathetic leader in the workplace is an ever-evolving journey of learning and unlearning.
Human beings are neuroplastic beings. We are beings equipped with the ability to rewire and form new neural connections. With the power of neuroplasticity, we can actively make daily choices that not only reshape our neural circuitry but can also alter the way we as human beings interact with one another.
To learn more about organisational emotional culture, employee well-being, and building a psychologically safe workplace, write to us at email@example.com.