Workplace Wellness and Mental Health: It is Your Business

One summer I was hired for a receptionist position. The only problem was that the old receptionist was still working at the company. She had no idea that the employer was just waiting for her to do something wrong so that I could replace her. Meantime I was working on some other tasks. Then the day came when someone came by my desk and gave me the nod. It was my time to take over the phones. I caught a glimpse of the dejected worker as she left for the last time.

Handling the phones, I was never to let callers know that the executive in charge was out of the office. Rather I would keep the caller on hold, frantically track the big boss down and patch the call through. Meanwhile, my colleagues would sit and listen to my calls and correct me when I erred.

I ended up giving notice two weeks earlier than I was supposed to. The bile in my throat every morning and the tension in my gut was just not worth the money, even for a student trying to raise funds before returning to school. (Yes, in retrospect I should have told the family member who found me this precious job for me, thanks but no thanks from the start, but I was young and in search of summer cash.)

The reason I landed this job in the first place was because I had worked as a switchboard operator (think Lily Tomlin). When one of the girls in that workplace made an error, the manager wrote it up on paper towels and hung the towels across the office.

Do you have a psychologically safe workplace?

When I hear that employers are becoming responsible to ensure psychologically safe workplaces, that excites me. Certainly people have suffered far more serious “mental injury” than I ever did on these job. They experience bullying, harassment, taking on the jobs of several others who have left without replacement, all resulting in serious stress. But business has become much more aware of the costs of sick leave due to mental health issues and even “presenteeism,” when the employee is there but not fully present or engaged in the job.

If you want to learn more about how to have a mentally healthy workplace, come to the Conference Board of Canada’s Workplace Wellness and Mental Health Conference taking place on June 18th and 19th in Toronto. If you’re interested, let me know, and I can send you a code for a special rate.

Meantime, do you have any horror stories of the worst thing that went on in your workplace? Or better yet, tell us about something your employer is doing to achieve wellness in your organization.

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