Are you all right in your job? Do you talk about it or do you hide it?

Author: Fatima Iniestra

In general, we spend most of our time at the company we work for, or the majority of our time is spent on our work activities, and it is not easy to live under pressure, racing against the clock, under excessive fatigue or stress, we are so used to this work rhythm that we see it as “normal”, but what are the mental consequences?

With Official Mexican Standard 035 (NOM-035-STPS-2018), the Department of Labor and Social Welfare sought to create a guideline to enable companies to identify, analyze and  prevent psychosocial risk factors and generate a favorable organizational environment. The requirements that workplaces must comply with, divided in two stages, were established from the moment that it entered into force:

1st stage, starting on October 23, 2019:

  • The preparation of the Policy, preventive measures, the identification of workers exposed to severe traumatic events as a consequence of their work and the dissemination of information.

2nd stage,  on October 23, 2020: 

  • The identification and analysis of psychosocial risk factors, the evaluation of the organizational environment, control measures and actions, the practice of medical examinations, and record keeping.

NOM-035 is a good effort seeking to protect the worker’s mental health, I suppose. It is certainly a good boost for the employer, for human resources and even for the worker to open up, but proper and trustworthy communication channels need to be created within companies to enable workers to express our situations; all personnel must be continuously trained so they know that it is okay to feel bad and that it is normal to have ailments, that the right thing to do  is to seek help and eliminate stigmas; humanity in the workplace must be fostered, taking care of all personnel, following up on cases that arise and eliminating common concerns.

One person heard the words “Labor Law Firm” and approached me to ask what he could do about a worker that could become “problematic” because he suffers schizophrenia and severe depression. In addition to this grave issue, he was not being provided with medication and the person who approached me was afraid that this could result in a risk to the operation. He mentioned that due to his illness, the worker occasionally missed work because he was not feeling well, which turned him into an “intermittent worker”.

The advice that one of my acquaintances gave was that the worker be terminated before the labor authority through a mutual consent termination agreement, to avoid any problems relating to discrimination; the solution was so promptly delivered that it seemed like an automatic response.

In telling this story my intention is not to speak ill of any person, but to point out that, as a group, we are used to the “efficient” solution. I believe that if I had put myself in the worker’s shoes or if I suffered from a similar ailment, I would most likely have come up with a similar suggestion (which is ironic). It could be said that it is our job, that what we must do is to find the best solution for the client.

However, let us reflect on whether the sole fact of having a mental illness is a daily internal battle, one that is painful, confusing, inescapable and difficult to treat; together with daily work stress and other work problems deriving from the illness, such as absences or poor performance and additional stress, it becomes an untenable situation for the worker.  It is because of cases like this that people decide to hide their ailments, they are afraid to disclose them at their work center because they don’t know how “the matter” will be handled and hide the illness in order to avoid being seen as a “potential risk”. People who suffer from severe anxiety or depression, particularly derived from work issues, are the majority.

Mariana Cervantes Carsolio has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Neuropsychology, a Graduate Degree of Specialist in Autistic Disorders and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. I talked with her and asked her some questions on her perspective on the NOM-035 policies in companies and the mental health of workers. When we started discussing the topic of the Standard and of psychosocial risks in general, she was evidently deeply knowledgeable on the topic, and it was interesting to see the perspective of another profession: “the objective of the Standard is the identification and the prevention of the psychosocial factors and risks that can be generated as a result of poor management of and for the environment.”

When speaking of poor management, she makes reference to the way in which the company not only handles the work center in the broad sense, but in terms of how it handles psychological, hierarchical, interpersonal and even family situations. When Mariana made emphasis specifically on psychological risks, a situation that is not often mentioned, I asked her if she believes that there is a need for psychological support for workers in all work centers or whether she believes that workers must seek it on their own, to which she clearly replied: “Many people take time to decide to seek support on their own and the company cannot force them to do so; therefore there should be support within companies. Mental health should be a priority in the labor arena, in the first place because the worker is the center of the company and without his health there is no company and in the second place because his mental health has a direct impact on his performance.

Something that she made strong emphasis on in our conversation was the matter of communication channels within the company. It is not easy for a person to come forward in the workplace and state the problems that he or she has in order to seek solutions for fear of the reaction that his could generate and/or due to lack of knowledge of the communication channels, and Mariana agreed with me while her face showed an expression that I could describe as concern or seriousness. “Here is where I have always said that communication channels for mental health should be provided in addition to the NOM-035 Policies, the promotion of the right to disconnection, and the concern in regard to psychosocial risks. It is worrisome to see that in all types of companies, but more so in those that are highly demanding, there are strong taboos in regard to mental illnesses, there are stereotypes, incorrect ideas that can generate serious labor consequences, even affecting the worker mentally and emotionally. Workers should never refrain from speaking up, and much less out of fear of being judged, as it is often the environment of the workplace itself that can generate this distrust. Some workers are afraid of appearing to be “weak” or “vulnerable”, but it often goes hand in hand with the profession.” When she made this last statement, I couldn’t help but think about what it’s like to be a lawyer.

I am not asking for condescension toward the worker, nor for the company to be paternalistic, but to respect the humanity of your employees who make up a workplace. You are not your profession, you are “you” and you have to be all right wherever you work. It is urgent to regulate treatment and support for mental illnesses. They are illnesses. When someone has diabetes, people are not concerned about the reaction the person may have to some external stimulus; when someone has arthritis, they don’t judge the amount of medication the person is taking in order to get better; when someone is hospitalized because they require urgent hospital attention, he is not accused of being “insane” for being locked up. It is not different. You also have people with mental illness in your workforce that need your support and encouragement. You too, employer, need to take care of your mental health.