Colleagues and kindness: What happens in the office, happens in the head

At work, we're required to share projects and often a physical space with a group of individuals we usually don't get to select ourselves.

And with them, we're asked to share all the highs and lows associated with success and failure, as well as the personal vulnerability that comes with periods of high stress and pressure.

We're asked to spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our own friends and family. Sometimes, we're asked to compete with these same individuals for the next big deal, contract or promotion.

Yet in the workplace, we're culturally conditioned to block our emotions. We're not supposed to let on when we might not be coping, when we struggle with mental anguish, anxiety, adversity, or when we have issues going on at home that we desperately need to discuss with an outsider.

And as we all well know from personal experience, our interactions with colleagues and managers contribute greatly to our job satisfaction and the enjoyment we derive from work. Meanwhile, workplace bullying is so rife in Australia that the Prime Minister has called for a review into its prevalence, while the Productivity Commission estimates it costs Australia billions annually.

According to an August Workplace Relationships Survey, there's an "avoidance culture" in Australian workplaces. Almost half of those surveyed reported they'd rather look for a new job than deal with an issue in the office. The study also found that in the office, we're still not having the meaningful conversations that can offer support to others dealing with adversity or depression. And we're not seeking out such support when needed ourselves.

But even the best leaders stumble internally. The brightest, most successful women have their silent pains and apply pressures and expectations on themselves that can't possibly be met, or simply come unstuck at some point.

And even the most accomplished of women feel the need to be appreciated in their roles. According to gender-based research into on-job depression released out of Canada earlier this year women are, more so than men, at greater risk of depression when they feel underappreciated at work. 

As for the idea of "having it all", there's research to suggest that our own expectations on what it means to successfully balance career and motherhood can correlate with depression – given the frustration and guilt so frequently associated with failing to meet high personal standards. 

This Thursday is R U OK day, a national day of action that encourages Australians to simply ask somebody they know "are you ok?" It's a reminder that every once in a while we should check up on each other – between colleagues, as well as between friends.

It's also a reminder to consider how our words and actions might be affecting the wellbeing of others, that petty remarks and judgemental behaviour hurt at any age and the little things we say and do to others can cause unnecessary emotional harm, worry and guilt. 

And personally, this R U OK day should be a reminder to check up on the pressures we place on ourselves -- that our own personal standards of success when it comes to career and motherhood should be goals rather than expectations. That it's ok to fail.

While we don't always get to choose our colleagues, we do get to choose how we treat them in the workplace. Often, it's as simple as being nice to each other, and to ourselves. 

What can you do to help yourself or someone else who might be experiencing depression?

Consider the below 14 signs from the R U OK resource kit that are associated with depression:

• Lowered self-esteem
• Change in sleep patterns
• Change in mood control
• Varying emotions throughout the day
• Change in appetite and weight
• Reduced ability to enjoy things
• Reduced ability to tolerate pain
• Reduced sex drive
• Suicidal thoughts
• Impaired concentration and memory
• Loss of motivation and drive
• Increase in fatigue
• Change in movement
• Being out of touch with reality

R U OK? At Work has a number of excellent resources available for individuals after advice on initiating a conversation with their manager, colleagues or employee about these issues.

There's also information available on how to say, "I'm not ok".

For those who work from home or remotely, check out the RU Ok? Afield resources.

Beyondblue and Lifeline also offer useful information on depression, as well as support services that can help you.

The Black Dog Institute offers an anonymous self-test for depression online. 

Angela Priestley

Angela Priestley is the Publisher and founding editor of Women's Agenda. She's an author, journalist and passionate advocate for workplace gender equality and diversity. Her first book is Women Who Seize the Moment.

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