For those of a certain age, I’m sure that being transparent about your mental health was taboo. Take my friends’ father, who’s a boomer, as an example. He never opened up about how he was feeling until one day he lost it. The stress, and the emotional and physical toll it took on him, finally came to head. And, he just started crying. I was floored. I mean I was always told that boys don’t cry. Here is why business leaders should talk about their mental health.
There’s been a sea of change when talking about mental health, and we can all learn from the shift.
Take Gen Z. They are more likely to seek help then other generations. Unfortunately, that figure is still low with only 37% reporting that they’ve received help from a psychologist or mental health professional.
Considering that some 450 million people suffer from a mental disorder, we still have a long way to go. And, this is particularly true for those in a leadership role.
For starters, as noted by the World Health Organization, “mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.” As a consequence, this can affect people’s behaviorally, emotionally, and physically, such as:
- Feeling down
- Reduced ability to concentrate
- Mood changes
- Excessive worrying
- Inability to cope with stress
- Changes in eating habits
- Substance abuse
- Trouble relating to others
- Increase in heart disease and cancer
The Link Between Mental Health and Work
Economically, mental health costs the global economy $ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity! Aetna Behavioral Health has also found that employee mental health costs rise twice as fast as other medical costs.
More specifically, mental health can be negatively affected by businesses:
- Performance and productivity
- Communicating with others
- Physical capability and daily functioning.
What’s more, via the CDC, “Depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time.”
Besides impacting your bottom line, there’s another reason why you need to prioritize mental health at your company; employees demand it.
One study has found that 62% of employees want leadership to speak openly about mental health. But, other research has found this to be higher.
“Mental health is becoming the next frontier of diversity and inclusion, and employees want their companies to address it, write Kelly Greenwood, Vivek Bapat, and Mike Maughan over at HBR. “Eighty-six percent of our respondents thought that a company’s culture should support mental health.” However, it “was even higher for Millennials and Gen Zers, who have higher turnover rates and are the largest demographic in the workforce.”
“Half of Millennials and 75% of Gen Zers had left roles in the past for mental health reasons, both voluntarily and involuntarily, compared with 34% of respondents overall — a finding that speaks to a generational shift in awareness,” add the authors. “It is not surprising then that providing employees with the support they need improves not only engagement but also recruitment and retention, whereas doing nothing reinforces an outdated and damaging stigma.”
How to Promote Mental Health Wellness in Your Workplace
So, yeah. Mental health needs to become a priority for your business. By being transparent and removing the stigma around mental health, you’ll improve every facet of your organization. And, to get started, here are the steps you should take.
Change the culture.
“Changing the culture is a top-down process,” writes Greenwood, Bapat, and Maughan. “It starts with transforming leaders into allies. Encourage executive teams, managers, and senior employees to share their experiences (or those of close family members or friends) at all-staff meetings or in other interactions with their teams.”
“Modeling disclosure and vulnerability as strengths, not weaknesses, goes a long way toward reducing the stigma and setting the tone for transparency,” they add.
Considering that almost half of entrepreneurs have experienced at least one form of mental health condition during their lifetime, you probably already have first-hand knowledge of this struggle. The challenge is to be open up about your experience. Once you do, this will help remove the stigma and encourage others to be more open about their struggles.
Additionally, if you want to change the culture, then you need to walk the walk. That means setting an example by showing others that you are addressing your well-being. For example, take breaks throughout the day and eat a healthy lunch. Most importantly, offer suggestions on how you addressed your mental health. If you spoke with a counselor, then refer an employee to that mental health professional.
Create an employee wellness program.
If you’re unfamiliar, an employee wellness program simply encourages healthy habits within the workplace. More importantly, it helps create a culture where health and wellness is a top priority.
To get started though, Howie Jones in a previous Calendar piece suggests using a Health Risk Appraisal (HRA) to assess your needs. “This is a questionnaire that reviews lifestyle practices like smoking and exercise,” explains Howie. “You could also conduct an interest survey and have your team rank what they would want the program to include.”
With this information, you can then design a program that works best for your company. For example, if a majority of your employees have admitted to dealing with a mental illness, then you may want to select a health insurance plan that covers mental health. You could also offer gym memberships, support services, or training to help them combat stress.
Focus on early intervention/prevention.
Let’s say that your bathroom faucet has a drip. You keep ignoring it thinking that it’s no big deal. Eventually, you may have to replace your sink because of water stains. Leaky faucets may also deteriorate caulk, grout, and damage ceilings and floorboards.
In short, don’t wait to solve this problem before it gets any worse.
The same is true with mental health. Educate your team on how they can cope with stress and anxiety. Provide support services, even if it’s paying for an app like Headspace. And, don’t punish them if they need to take a mental health day or leave early to speak with a therapist.
Enforce working hours.
Promote a healthy work-life balance by establishing boundaries. For instance, limit communication outside of office hours. That means not emailing an employee at midnight asking them a question that could wait until the morning.
You should also encourage them to set an out-of-office message in their calendar. Google and Outlook calendars have this feature. And, it’s a simple way to automatically reject event invites when you’re not available.
Cultivate a healthy and positive work environment.
Besides boosting productivity, healthy and positive work environments can improve morale and decrease turnover. Best of all, it’s not all that complicated to implement if you do the following:
- Establish organizational guidelines that prevent bullying and harassment.
- Show your gratitude and appreciation to your team members by recognizing their hard work.
- Invest in your team’s well-being by investing in ergonomic furniture, providing healthy snacks, and placing plants throughout the workplace.
- Help your employees curb vices and unhealthy habits.
- Never motivate your team using fear.
- Celebrate milestones and have fun through games and volunteering.
Frequently check-in with your employees.
Yes. You’ve got a million things to do. But, spend quality time with each team member. Get to know them better and ask how they’re doing. You don’t want to pry into their personal lives. But, checking-in with them builds trust. That means if they do have a mental health concern, they won’t be afraid to come to you for assistance.
Grant autonomy and flexible schedules.
Don’t micromanage your employees. Even better, provide flexible schedules and working arrangements so that they have opportunities to attend to their well-being.
Help them solve their time management problems.
Finally, help your team members improve their time management. That may not sound like much. But, if they’re struggling in this area, then don’t have the time to attend to their mental health. For example, help them prioritize their time so that they aren’t taking their work home with them. In turn, they’ll have more availability to work with a mental health professional or engage in healthy habits like exercising or meditating.