By Terena Chetty, 1Africa Consulting Head of Strategy. Over the last few years, there has been a rising prevalence of ‘quiet quitting’, where employees mentally ‘check out’ as a means of disengaging from negative work environments.
As Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Samantha Williams explains: “Under high expectations, looming deadlines and burnout, quiet quitting became a new phenomenon. Known as a ‘go slow’, it is where one stops investing in their work and careers and does the minimum amount of work required. Apart from being detrimental to the organisation and the team, it is devastating for the individual as he or she loses the meaningfulness and purposefulness that work brings. This can lead to dark places of low mood, and even depression.”
However, a more recent trend, one supportive of mental wellness, is “quiet thriving”. Quiet thriving refers to finding ways to create a more positive mindset in a work environment. Considering how much time we spend at work (whether physically or remotely), it stands to reason that our work environment has a substantial impact on our general mental state. Therefore, actively engaging in ways to improve workplace situations can be quite beneficial to our overall mental health and happiness.
While each person has unique factors that influence mood and mental state at work, some considerations to reduce frustration or contribute to a positive state of mind include:
- Taking breaks: As obvious as this sounds, many of us skip breaks and work long periods non-stop. With tight deadlines and workloads, we convince ourselves that we simply do not have time for breaks. However, working continuously for hours can be counter-intuitive – often a short break can release pressure and refresh thinking so that we can tackle tasks with a much clearer mind. “The brain’s ability to focus can vary from 20 minutes to 45 minutes of productive time and then we need a break. Take a walk to get a glass of water, sit in the sun for 5 minutes (vitamin D is important for brain functioning and sleep), walk to your colleague’s desk to discuss work collaboration rather than send an email; and ensure that you take your allocated lunch break,” advises Williams.
- Setting boundaries: A lack of boundaries can lead to being overloaded with work, as well as difficulty prioritising different tasks. Once this habit has been set, it can be challenging to break, often escalating until it is completely overwhelming. Saying “no” is not as simple as it sounds, but it’s a start to setting boundaries. It may not even have to be an outright no – sometimes all it takes is saying you will complete something at another time, or that you can assist with a task but not take it on in its entirety.
- Emotional distance: Exercising an emotional distance or learning not to take things personally is another practice that is easier said than done. Unfortunately, the majority of workers are faced with colleagues and / or superiors with personality types that trigger negative emotions. If its within your control, physically distancing yourself from such situations may work in the short term. In other cases, you may have to address the issue, particularly if behaviour borders on emotional abuse or improper work conduct.
- Your surroundings: If you have a say in your immediate surroundings, consider bringing in items that bring you joy or a sense of peace. This could range from photos of loved ones, to a comfy cushion, to a few plants around your desk or office.
- Mental wellness outside the workspace: Taking care of your mental health in general can have a positive impact on your mental health at work. For example, exercising, eating well and engaging in activities that you enjoy can make you feel better overall, and assist with coping with stressful or frustrating situations at work.
According to Williams, self-care begins with the basics of human needs – sleep, nutrition, exercise and social connection. To maintain a healthy brain-body-mind connection, one needs to ensure that there is adequate sleep (between 7-9 hours of sleep daily to ensure optimum functioning); eat regularly (with a healthy combination of proteins, fat, carbohydrates, vegetables and plenty of water); and aim for a minimum of 90 minutes of exercise per week where the heart rate is elevated.
Her advice is to structure your day in a way that works for you and be flexible in your structure. Work according to your strengths, grow your strengths to maximise enjoyment and let go of the things that you have little control over that bring you stress. “Inherently, human beings are social creatures who thrive in a positive social environment. Collegial relationships with good boundaries and positive social engagement goes a long way in adding to our own positive outlook,” she explains.
It is important to note that the points above are not quick fixes for a toxic work environment. They can assist with improving your day-to-day work environment and mental state, but cannot overcome serious toxic situations that are not conducive to employee mental well-being. In such situations, you may have to consider more impactful solutions, or explore the option of finding another workplace altogether.
Remember, the “quiet” part of thriving does not mean you have to be quiet about successes at work. Do celebrate and acknowledge wins – both big and small. “Be innovative in playing to your strengths, and have constructive conversations with your leaders around solutions that could make your work more appealing to you. Being heard, acknowledged and feeling like you’re a valuable member to the business drives motivation and accomplishment. We need to see the fruits of our efforts,” says Williams.
While we cannot control all aspects of work and life, we can certainly find ways to protect our mental health and increase contentment factors as part of self-care in the workplace. Its about being accountable to ourselves and doing the best we can to improve a given situation.