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Managing 'cognitive hygiene' can help employee mental health: White paper ​

If workplace stressors are left untreated, well-being and performance can suffer
| www.cos-mag.com
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Among employees who are attending work while experiencing a form of negative stress, many are struggling to cope and that is having a negative impact on their overall mental health. Now, more than ever, organizations are seeing increasing risk levels of individuals with mental and physical health issues and illnesses in the workplace. A new whitepaper by Morneau Shepell in Toronto found that coping skills and levels of resilience were significant in predicting health outcomes and employees' engagement levels.

The white paper is centred around the concept of "cognitive hygiene": the ability to effectively manage negative thinking, maintain cognitive abilities to solve problems and make good decisions without thinking negative thoughts that influence mental health.

Successful cognitive hygiene can be separated into two key elements: developmental coping skills and sustainable daily actions.

Developmental coping skills provide an individual with insight on how they think, training them to better solve problems and make good decisions. These skills range from understanding emotional intelligence to psychological hardiness and teaching the mind to deal with life's events. Sustainability coping skills — those that facilitate and support positive mental health — range from practising mindfulness to learning effective mood management.

"To put it in everyday terms, practising effective cognitive hygiene follows the same key elements of a healthy oral hygiene regime," said Bill Howatt, chief research and development officer for workforce productivity at Morneau Shepell and author of the whitepaper. "The success of both is dependent on daily practices and actions. Oral hygiene starts with the developmental skills of learning how to brush and floss teeth correctly and the sustainability skills of brushing after each meal and flossing each day. Comparatively, cognitive hygiene requires developmental coping skills such as insight into emotions, followed by sustainability coping skills, which involve the daily actions one takes to avoid negative, unwanted thoughts."

According to the whitepaper, practising cognitive hygiene is especially important in the workplace, where stressors come in many forms and if left untreated, can result in mental health issues that ultimately affect well-being and performance.

If managed effectively, investing in cognitive hygiene has the ability to improve an organization's bottom line by reducing turnover, improving productivity and reducing the potential for employee conflict, Howatt said.

"Managing coping skills and resilience development are not static — they continually need to be practised to effectively take on the stressors of everyday life," he said.

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