I recently read the article ‘Mental Health isn’t Taboo on LinkedIn’ by Cayla Dengate. I found it refreshing to hear her relay a story about LinkedIn writer Tim Denning. Denning was very unsure whether he should share his mental health story on LinkedIn as he questioned blurring the line between public and private on the platform. His concern was the possible consequences it could have on his job or future job prospects.
Denning courageously took a leap of faith by writing his blog and pressed the publish button. It went viral. He gained a wider following and ended up in a new job which was created for him because of his skill set and honesty. He put aside his fear and ego to share what is an important subject.
Being able to communicate about mental health from a space of authenticity, integrity and strength is what it is all about – especially in the work place. Living with anxiety and having worked as a natural health practitioner in therapeutic practice for over 20 years, I have a good insight into the complexity of the condition. It comes and goes. There are intense periods and then periods where you can almost believe that it doesn’t exist at all. There may be flare ups but there are treatments and management protocols. There are pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions. Some people can get away without the use of medication while others cannot.
Is it safe to talk about it in the workplace or to tell your employer? If you read the comments underneath Dengate’s blog you will notice there is a mixed response. A number of people live in fear that if they tell their employer there will be negative consequences.
I am in two minds about the big reveal to an employer. The open-hearted part of me wants to believe that being honest and upfront will allow for better understanding and the prospect of solutions-focussed dialogue between the employer and employee. Should there ever be a flare up then work can be modified until all is well and usual duties resume. The open-hearted part of me wants the employer not to treat or think differently about the employee or wonder whether they can fully perform and function in their job.
It’s like having someone with high blood pressure issues, arthritis or diabetes. Flare ups happen. They also subside and (in most cases) can be managed. It’s a matter of removing or managing the symptoms/triggers (or the cause if that is possible).
An example of having the courage to tell your employer about your diagnosis is to understand that it could be mutually beneficial. There are numerous causes of anxiety. Hormonal, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anticipatory, health-related, stress, medication, genetic disposition and too much screen time. To assist in the management of an employee’s anxiety is to first know what kind of anxiety the person has and what it may mean. Positive management in the workplace may mean a manager providing longer lead times for deadlines, offer variety in work duties so that screen time is broken up. Allow for time off in lieu so that the employee remains fresh, creative and productive. Also don’t continue to pile on work which can create overwhelm, stress and time management issues.
The rational and intellectually functioning part of me however is more cautious and guarded, just like some of the commenters in Dengate’s article. An employee may be at risk of being a misunderstood stereotype, being overlooked for promotion, possibly losing their job or not getting a job based on knowing about your history. Your employer/manager is only human and may gauge your anxiety on his/her own (possibly limited) experience, bias or understanding of the condition.
I understand both sides of the equation. The employer may believe that someone with anxiety could be unproductive by continuously requiring time off. The employee on the other hand just wants to be valued for his/her skillsets and be given the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities to the business without fearing consequences (like those already mentioned).
Social research Professor Brene Brown is doing a lot of research in the United States with companies (and individuals) in the area of leaning into courage and vulnerability. Knowing that such progressive companies exist is really encouraging. It offers hope that employees can step up in their courage and speak their truth knowing that their employer has their back.
Is it possible for Australian businesses to do the same? I don’t know about you but when an employee demonstrates the courage to open up about their mental health story, surely the demonstration of such courage is to be viewed as a strength and asset to the business?