World Mental Health Day: Compassionate management in the workplace for better mental health

We are lucky to have a unique viewpoint on mental health in the workplace because about 80% of our employees are on the autism spectrum.

This weekend on October 10th was World Mental Health Day and the theme this year was “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment – Greater Access”. This theme is important because mental health issues touch the lives of many people and are actually, according to the World Health Organization, among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. Despite this fact, mental health is something that is still stigmatized to the point of severely limiting access to proper services for many people. We are slowly seeing strides being made with mental health awareness and acceptance, but one place where the stigma, unfortunately, continues to hold strong is within the workplace.

At auticon, we are lucky to have a unique viewpoint on mental health in the workplace because nearly 70% of our employees are on the autism spectrum. Autism is not a mental health condition. It is part of the neurodiversity spectrum, meaning that it’s a normal variation in human neurology that comes with its own strengths and challenges. These challenges, ranging from sensory sensitivities to difficulties processing verbal instructions, to a strict love of routine, are things that we accommodate to the best of our ability. The accommodations are usually simple. We dim the lights, allow noise-canceling headphones, provide clear written instructions, and give lots of advanced notice whenever there are schedule changes. Because of our majority autistic workforce, we are used to accommodating people’s needs and we understand them as needs. We have also developed a partnership with One Mind At Work, a mental health non-profit focused on bettering the professional lives of those facing mental health struggles. Our understanding of our autistic colleagues combined with the knowledge we have gained from our charter with One Mind has taught us the importance of offering accommodations to anyone at auticon. We have seen that this open accommodation style is a pathway to better mental health for everyone because many people on the spectrum also struggle with mental health or other physical conditions, and other members of our staff may have no diagnosable conditions but have found that certain environmental or scheduling tweaks ease workplace stress that could have otherwise caused burnout.

The so-called science behind this is very simple. From a young age everyone is taught to not be the odd one out. That thread follows through to the workplace. If you’re someone that has a condition that would benefit from an accommodation, the last thing you want to do is single yourself out to your manager by literally having to disclose a diagnosis, and then your entire floor by having a noticeable accommodation. As the employer, you can remove this huge layer of fear and stigma for those with and without diagnoses by allowing for an “accommodation for all” model, like we have at auticon. This is called a compassionate management strategy.

When managing with compassion, we have found that people do not take advantage of these policies. In fact, we still have to encourage our employees to ask for what they need because the stigma runs that deep. However, what we have slowly been able to do is create an environment where people want to put their team first because they value the team and the workplace, but they also feel safe putting themselves first when they need to because they see how this will ultimately benefit the entire team. This is what mental health for all looks like in the workplace. Greater investment in the wellbeing of all of your people allows everyone to have greater access to their individual needs, and what comes out of it is a team that is happier and more productive.

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