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The official magazine of United Nations

international civil servants in Geneva

A Healthy Workforce for a Better World - Copyright Photo by Daniel Olah on Unsplash
A Healthy Workforce for a Better World
1 May 2020

28th of April International day for safety and health at work

Have you heard about the UN’s Mental Health and Well-being Strategy?

UN staff, diplomats and international employees, are often attracted to working in the humanitarian field, we want to make the world a better place. Working helps us to feel good, we are motivated to help others, we have a strong sense of purpose, yet this work can be very challenging and emotionally exhausting.

The UN cares about your mental health and well-being and is actively working to improve things so that staff will be happier at work and in turn in their personal lives. Did you know that results from staff surveys find that working in Geneva or New York can be more stressful than working in the field?

Implementing a workplace mental health strategy means thinking about our actual workplace environment as well as our health. We can think about how our work setting can affect us; positively or negatively, as well as the effect our mental health has on our ability to do our jobs.

What can we do to contribute to a healthier workplace? For example, we can try to become more conscious of the language we use, what does calling someone ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ mean? These words have power. We can help reduce the stigma and fear of coming forward to ask for support by being mindful of our own behaviour and thoughts, be aware of our own prejudices and always try to challenge our own beliefs.

Ask ourselves, is it a fact or an opinion? We can encourage staff who are not feeling well to confide in someone, a colleague, a manager, to not be afraid to be vulnerable and to share their experiences. 

Many of us will experience poor mental health at some point in our lives, as many as 1 in 5 of the world’s population are experiencing anxiety or depression every day.

The good news is that there is treatment. We can get better.

The Staff Counsellor’s Office – Who are we and how can we help?

The Staff Counsellor’s Office would like to wish you all good health and well-being. So, who are we and how can we help? Staff Counsellors are based all around the world, we are a group of people who come from a range of backgrounds and different experiences working in the domain of mental health and well-being.

Our primary goal is the prevention of illness. We work with staff and teams to encourage everyone to try to tackle any problems in working life or personal life as early as possible. Our experience shows that seeking support sooner can help staff to avoid experiencing emotional exhaustion (sometimes referred to as burnout).

Strong leadership and management are also key factors in ensuring good mental health and well-being for supervisees. By promoting awareness and knowing the signs and symptoms for conditions like anxiety, emotional exhaustion and depression, managers can identify and support staff on their team who may be struggling. Managing can also be demanding and challenging, the Staff Counsellor’s Office can help you to develop skills to take good care of yourself and others and remind all of us to take some time out to rest and have a break.

Mental health can have a negative connotation, however, just like our physical bodies can become tired after a long week at work, our brains can also feel overloaded, our minds need a rest and some peace. Some of us may think nothing of having a massage to ease pain in our bodies, what about the muscles in our mind? How can we relax and reenergize our most important organ, our brain?

What can you do to help keep yourself healthy and safe at work?

We all know that we should take regular breaks, we could try to drink more water, less coffee, be less sedentary and eat healthier food, but it is hard to change our habits, especially when we are busy with deadlines. Here in the Palais the Staff Counsellor’s Office provides guided Mindfulness Meditation sessions. These sessions last for 25 minutes, everyone is welcome (you can wear your work clothes). Please come and join us on Tuesdays at 1pm and Wednesdays at 12pm in room C.018. During these sessions you will practice how to sit peacefully with your thoughts and feelings in the present moment, creating an inner calm to help contain and reduce stress.

We also offer Mindfulness Yoga to help you find a balance between the busy pace of work and your mental well-being. These sessions are on Thursdays at 1pm. Research shows that Mindfulness Meditation reduces high blood pressure, improves attention and sensory processing, and physically alters the parts of the brain associated with learning, memory, and perspective-taking. If Mindfulness is not for you, how about going for a walk in the grounds of the Palais or walk or jog to the lake. It doesn’t matter what you do, just try something, your mind will thank you.

Remember you are not alone, if you are struggling with something at work or at home, please reach out and talk to someone.

Seeking help early makes a difference to your recovery. Professional staff are available both within the UN (or outside with the support of health insurance).

* Mary Bridget Leahy, MBACP, is Staff Counsellor (Mental Health & Well-being) at HRMS, United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG).
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