Dr Katrina Gisbert-Tay, Director of Health Coaching at The Coach Partnership, says mental and emotional health is a continuous work-in-progress, and that individuals can take charge of their own well-being

The average person spends 90,000 hours of their lifetime at work. It comes as no surprise that a toxic work environment is a key trigger of stress and anxiety for many people.

Yet, the pressure is on employees to perform to their best ability at all times, in spite of down days, where one’s mental and physical health is compromised.

Mental health experts have named stress-related health issues as a major drain on company finances.

For instance,  the American Psychological Association found that stress costs businesses roughly US$300 billion as a result of accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity and insurance costs.

Another study has found that lack of sleep is costing US companies US$411 billion in lost productivity.

The pandemic has added to mental health woes. In a survey among 2,700 respondents, over 45 percent of employees reported that the pandemic has adversely impacted their mental health, with Gen Y’s mental health the most affected.

The unpredictable nature of crises goes to show that there isn’t a perfect scenario in which employees are performing up to speed all the time. 

This makes taking care of one’s mental health  an ongoing process, says Dr Katrina Gisbert-Tay of The Coach Partnership.

Dr Gisbert-Tay, who is a medical doctor and a certified executive coach, notes that employees need to get from a state of languishing to a state of flow, or flourishing, in order to feel happy and fulfilled at work.

She shared this at Greater’s launch event in April, as well as some tips on how to preserve one’s mental and emotional health at work.

Feeling uninspired? You’re probably languishing.

Organisational psychologist Adam Grant, coined the term “languishing” as a mental state in which a person feels “blah” – empty and stagnant, but not quite depressed.

The term isn’t new in psychology – Corey Keyes, who suggested corporations view mental health as a continuum, describes languishing as an absence of mental health, and flourishing, a frame of positive mental health.

“Mental health is really a state of well being when a person or an individual realises their potential,” says Dr Gisbert-Tay.

She notes that in order for employees to flourish, they need to be in a state of “flow” for them to perform optimally. 

Managers should have realistic expectations of their teams, and to view them human beings who experience ups and downs, according to Dr Gisbert-Tay

“Because when we go into the office, and we expect that we’re going to be self-actualised, you’re going to do really well, we’re going to be high performers,” she continues.

Spotting mental health red flags

“Poor mental health shows up in a few ways”, says Dr Gisbert-Tay.

For instance, there is a significant change in energy or in moods – employees have difficulty making decisions or coming up with solutions; they avoid meetings or withdraw from other people; or there is substance abuse as well significant weight gain.

“Burned out employees display irritability, exhaustion, an increase in leave requests or sick time”, she adds. “They are also difficult to engage, and produce a lower-than-normal quality of work”.

How to get from languishing to flourishing

So how does one move to a state of flourishing, or flow? But first, one needs to know what “flow” feels like. To illustrate, Dr Gisbert-Tay surveyed the audience on what they did to preserve their mental health during the pandemic.

Some audience members picked up the guitar for the first time in decades, while others practised daily gratitude or kindness towards themselves and their loved ones.

Dr Gisbert-Tay says one way to get into the “flow” zone is to do something that you love. “The antidote to languishing is to feel focused, and to feel joy or an endorphin rush”, she says. “Playing an instrument, like what an audience member did, is one way to feel the flow”.

She points out that the audience took action in a time of crisis, which demonstrates that we are fully capable of taking charge of our mental health, as “active stewards of our world view”.

Some tools to boost your mental health in trying times

Here are five tools to improve the mental health of yourself and your employees, as recommended by Dr Gisbert-Tay herself:

  • Clear your mind of mental chatter as a way to distance yourself from negative, or disempowering thoughts. Your thoughts do not define you.
  • Develop the three As: attention, awareness and acceptance
  • Embrace a new era of leadership – develop social and interpersonal skills to minimise employee burnout; give your employees more autonomy over what they do.
  • Practice empathy and compassion. “The most empathetic thing a manager can do is to be clear about expectations. What is it that you’re asking your team?” says Dr Gisbert-Tay.
  • Look at your sleep, nutrition, and movement, and the quality of your relationships. These factors are “modifiable”, which means you can leverage them to restore control and a sense of balance in times of chaos.

“Good mental health is when one is feeling confident, and is able to handle the stresses of daily life,” says Dr Gisbert-Tay.

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