Today, more and more workplaces are providing accessible work conditions and leave policies that account for different mental conditions and work styles. Technology allows for more flexible schedules, and a better understanding of how different people require different environments to flourish and increase productivity in the workplace. Of course, there are still improvements to be made, but in the meantime, there are many ways to protect your own mental wellness at work.
1. Demand Policy Clarity
Some workplaces like to brag about their flexibility as a way to get around writing concrete policies. This can be dangerous for employees, as even if your manager has always said it's okay if you come in late as long as you let them know, a directive from the top could change that in an instant and you could be fired for breaking a company policy that was never enforced.
It's important that companies have written policies on attendance expectations and that those are widely known. If you've been told you are an exception to the policy, talk with HR about revising the policy or at the bare minimum, putting it in writing that you are exempt. It's important that policies get made with workplace wellness in mind, so pointing out where existing policies fall short is vital.
This applies to out-of-office communication as well. If you often get emails outside of working hours, make sure that there is clear expectation as to when responses are expected and required. Encourage HR to designate specific “on-call” hours and make it clear that employees are not expected to respond to communication outside those hours.
2. Make Your Needs Known
If you require specific accommodations to be successful in your job, it's important that your boss and HR are aware of these. This can be a difficult conversation to have, especially if your accommodations are associated with any sort of stigma, but it's important regardless. Your direct boss should be aware because should anything change in the future, this support will be vital. HR also needs to know because you're not guaranteed to have the same boss for your entire career. Legally, your company is required to make reasonable accommodations for health considerations, but you may need a doctor's note or other proof in order to secure this.
If you have an invisible illness, official documentation is even more important. A seemingly understanding boss may decide that your illness “isn't real” or “is no excuse” in times of pressure. Inherent biases run deep and when people can't see evidence of something, they may begin to doubt its seriousness.
3. Take Time Away
In this world of 24/7 availability, it can be easy to forget to take time away. Though many employers are implementing relaxed vacation and sick day policies, there is still a lot of inconsistency in allowing mental health days, and requirements for securing those. Reliability is important in an employee, but if you need to take time off and aren't needed for an emergency, there should be protocol for taking last minute time off without having to divulge personal health information.
Having time away from work is one of the most important factors in preventing occupational burnout. If you don't get to take time away from work, you can't take a step back and see what you appreciate about it. Especially if your work doesn't meet your personal life goals, you need time to focus on your personal self rather than your professional self.