Nothing brought the mental health of employees to the attention of business leaders more than the COVID-19 pandemic. Writer Naz Beheshti referred to this increased awareness of mental wellness as a “silver lining” of the pandemic.
Beheshti writes, “There is initial evidence that this decreased stigma has made people, in general, feel more comfortable opening up about mental health. According to a 2021 survey by NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), 52% of respondents say they have been more open with others about their mental health since the pandemic started.”
As more employees share their experiences with mental health and its effects on their work, the requirements for action from leaders have simultaneously increased. Leaders can’t sit and simply listen to their employee’s stories. Action is required. For leaders, this means focusing on personal mental health and building a psychologically safe and inclusive workplace for employees.
Start with Yourself
“Burnout” has been a popular buzzword as thousands of employees left their jobs in search of better work-life balance throughout the recent “Great Resignation.” However, it is important to remember that leaders are at just as much risk of overwork.
According to Development Dimensions International’s 2021 Global Leadership Forecast, 60% of leaders feel used up by the end of their workday. Additionally, 26% of those same leaders revealed that they anticipated leaving their company within the year. Leaders who do not care for their own mental wellness risk dampening the mental health of their overall team.
“If executives want their employees to prioritize their mental health, they need to be doing the same in a very visible way,” says Adam Weber, the SVP of Community at 15Five. “It’s one thing to encourage people to take time off for therapy or a mental health day, but most leaders have yet to take the next step of doing that themselves in a transparent way.”
Modeling self-care is a great solution for leaders looking to improve their mental wellness. Certified Executive Coach Erin Urban suggests that leaders take walks during their lunch breaks or take time to celebrate accomplishments made at work fully. She also recommends taking time to breathe and practice mindfulness.
Pharmacist Sanjib Nandi discovered the power of mindfulness and meditation during a critical period of his life. Now, as an author and speaker, Nandi’s mission is to free individuals of negativity and promote self-mastery.
After the release of his book “The Man with Zero Talent” in 2021, Nandi created LUVO, a completely free self-care and mindfulness coaching app. The app includes other wellness features, such as water intake, sleep tracking, step count, mood checks, and gratitude.
“Everybody wants health, happiness, and success, but fear is the thing that stops us. I have dedicated hours researching the brain and discovered that fear literally enlarges the amygdala, while consistent mindfulness can shrink it within weeks.”
Promote Diversity and Inclusion
Although more employees are talking about their mental health, not everyone has a positive experience. This is largely due to the absence of psychological safety in the workplace.
According to the Center for Creative Leadership“Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”
Mckinsey researchers wrote, “Our research finds that a positive team climate—in which team members value one another’s contributions, care about one another’s well-being, and have input into how the team carries out its work—is the most important driver of a team’s psychological safety. Moreover, by setting the tone for the team climate through their own actions, team leaders have the strongest influence on a team’s psychological safety. Yet just 43% of all respondents report a positive climate within their team.”
Creating this environment requires leaders to learn how to listen and respond with compassion. Mike Koganan assistant counselor at Care Counseling Center, said, “People need to feel like they belong — like they matter and as their organization values them. Otherwise, work can be an incredibly isolating experience — and that sense of isolation can worsen mental health symptoms Leaders must consistently demonstrate empathy and understanding so that employees can feel like they can raise concerns about stressors in the workplace.”
Foster Diversity and Inclusion
Leaders can build a psychologically safe company culture by prioritizing Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives. For example, in a 2021 study by Kelly Greenwood and Julia Anasmore than half of the respondents (an increase of 13% from 2019) indicated that mental health is a DEI issue.
The importance of inclusivity was drastically apparent following the death of George Floyd in 2020. The Washington Post states, “The rate of black Americans showing clinically significant signs of anxiety or depressive disorders jumped from 36% to 41% in the week after the video of Floyd’s death became public. That represents roughly 1.4 million more people.”
However, African Americans aren’t the only population needing further inclusion. Co-founder of One Mind at work, Garen Staglin, wrote, “Employees from diverse backgrounds can face lack of representation, microaggressions, unconscious bias, and other stressors that impact their mental health and psychological safety at work.”
Kelly Greenwood and Juila Anas wrote, “Demographics continue to play a strong role in workplace mental health, with younger workers and historically underrepresented groups still struggling the most. Millennials and Gen Zers, as well as LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx respondents, were significantly more likely to experience mental health symptoms. Like Millennials and Gen Zers, caregiver respondents and members of historically underrepresented groups—including LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx respondents—were likelier to leave roles for their mental health and believe that a company’s culture should support mental health.”
Fostering a culture of D&I will not only benefit employees’ mental health but also positively impact business and hiring.
Survey respondents from every demographic in a McKinsey study indicated that they consider an organization’s inclusiveness level when making career decisions.
The indication seems to be that many employees across the United States actively seek bold action on the part of companies to help invest in their mental well-being and make everyone feel included.