Mental health in the workplace – the ACE approach

Managing mental health
Photo by Tayla Jeffs on Unsplash

Managing mental health in the workplace is really important to me. I want to be happy, and I want my teams and people I work with to be happy too. I once worked for a mental health charity and picked up a few tools for thinking about and managing wellbeing and mental health.

This post explains the ACE approach – Achieve, Connect, Enjoy. In one sentence – we need to achieve a balance of these things in our daily lives.

Achieve

This could be work stuff, household chores, studying or perhaps progress towards a more long term goal. It is something that you probably don’t enjoy actually doing, but you feel really good when you’ve done it.

It’s important to recognise that on some days if you are struggling with your mental health, you may not feel like achieving anything; this is where it’s important to focus on something comparatively minor – like making the bed. Getting dressed and / or making breakfast might be a real achievement some days – celebrate it, don’t feel bad about all the other things you’re not achieving.

Connect

Make time to “be” with others, even if just virtually. If you’re too busy working, it’s very easy to let social connections slide. This has been shown time and time again to have a negative impact on wellbeing.

Enjoy

we need time to play, to have fun. This has to be genuine fun and will be specific to what you really love doing. Play a computer game, read a book, watch a film – the only rule is that you have to actually enjoy it.

Applying ACE

It’s the balance between these activities that is key.

I sometimes get into vicious cycles where I don’t feel like I’ve achieved much, so I deny myself play time. Or alternatively, I might spend all day playing Civ IV to cheer myself up but then feel guilty about wasting time so it doesn’t actually bring any joy.

It’s also important not to mix up hobbies and chores. For example, at the moment, lots of people I know who enjoy crafts feel like they ought to be doing something useful like making masks and scrubs, rather than making what they want to make. It’s great that they want to help, but it’s important to recognise that if you are feeling an obligation to do something, your enjoyable hobby has probably become a chore. Either apply balance within it (“I’ll make two masks and then I’ll make that bag I want”) or find something else that brings you joy that won’t make you feel guilty.

Start by analysing what you’re already doing. Write down what you did yesterday and classify the activities into the three frameworks. Are you achieving a balance? Which activities brought you a sense of achievement, and which brought you joy? Were there activities that didn’t fit into any of these categories? (In my case – mindless scrolling through social media feeds is a common one!)

Use this to plan a day where you do achieve a balance. Schedule at least one thing you want to achieve, a social interaction and an activity that makes you genuinely happy.

ACE in the workplace

Does this apply specifically within the workplace as well? I think it does. We spend a lot of our lives in work, so we either need to make sure that there are things we enjoy doing while we’re there, or that we make ourselves take lunchbreaks and leave on time to spend time on other activities.

It’s also important to make sure we feel like we have achieved something at work. If we regularly get to the end of the working day and don’t feel like this, why is it? Is it because we’re not doing things that give us a sense of achievement, or is it because we need to be kinder to ourselves and focus on what we have done rather than what we haven’t?

If you’re a manager, learn what tasks people enjoy doing and what gives them a sense of achievement and use this in your allocation of work. Celebrate team achievements and certainly focus more on what has been done rather than what hasn’t. And don’t forget to connect – have tea with a colleague and don’t talk about work!

I learned about ACE via the Bristol Wellbeing College.

More information about ACE.

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