Mental health among employees
Mental health among employees
But what does this mean for leaders?
How to reduce the stigma around mental health?
Be a role model
Another way leaders can offer their support is to act as a role model and be open about their own mental health challenges.
Kelly Greenwood, CEO of Mind Share Partners in the US, believes leaders must go first in setting the example. “Being vulnerable – whether about mental health or not – is critical in creating a safe team environment where direct reports can feel comfortable opening up about their own challenges. We find that employees typically only need a small window to do so. Having leaders open up about their mental health challenges is a hugely powerful mechanism to reduce stigma since it flips the stereotype on its head.”
Dolan-Del Vecchio believes that leaders are role models for everyone in the organisation. “Leaders should be encouraged to be as open regarding personal mental health challenges, as they are when it comes to their physical, family and other life challenges.”
He adds, however, that leaders also need to be thoughtful regarding when it makes sense to share these aspects of their selves. “They should not do it gratuitously,” he notes.
Edgar agrees, warning that being authentic in these scenarios is vital: “A key component of successful leadership is building trust. This requires a level of authenticity to allow leaders to be a positive role model. However, they should only share what they are comfortable sharing and shouldn’t be expected to unless the environment supports them appropriately.”
Many of the senior leaders at wellness platform Gympass have opened up about their mental health journeys, to show that anyone affected by mental health issues will find understanding at the highest level.
Pietro Carmignani, CEO, Gympass Europe, is one of them. “A number of leaders in our business have already shared their own stories and struggles of mental health, including me,” he comments. “People really appreciate the honesty and feel that if their managers can talk about it, so can they.
Encouraging employees to talk in an open, supportive and honest environment is powerful and effective. That said, you can only ask leaders to do what they feel able to; their privacy must be respected.”
While identifying and supporting employees with mental health problems can be a good first step, many companies choose to outsource mental health care to third parties, offering access to expert help and guidance.
However, organisations still need to ensure mental health support is entrenched within the business. “I believe leadership teams should drive support within the company,” comments Carmignani. “Third parties can provide excellent training, practical and professional support and an outsider perspective, but when it comes to day-to-day engagement, attentiveness to who needs help, and ongoing efforts to de-stigmatise mental ill-health, it must be embedded in a business through initiatives and an open-door policy.”
Calder adds that, while Atkins does rely on a broad spectrum of external suppliers to support their MHFAs, the company still holds responsibility for employee welfare.
“We are very aware that we have overall accountability for the wellbeing of our employees. As a company, we are ultimately responsible and our line managers are accountable. They play a key role in assisting employees to access support. It has to be a collaboration across that supply chain.”
Companies could also consider implementing employee resilience programmes to combat workplace mental health issues; however, it’s important to first find out if these programmes suit the needs of the employees. Also, while they may be beneficial, these programmes can imply that mental health challenges appear due to a deficit in an individual employee, rather than the company’s culture, policies or processes, warns Greenwood.
“Companies need to consider their role and minimise workplace factors that are proven to negatively impact mental health, such as job strain or lack of trust. Teaching employees an effective, evidence-based strategy to manage stress is helpful, but doing so within an ecosystem of unhealthy work practices and a toxic culture will inevitably result in turnover.”
Dolan-Del Vecchio says that while such programmes are nice to have, they will not be effective without ensuring leaders support employees struggling with mental health. “The solution is effective leadership within organisations that have reasonable productivity expectations. In other words, the solution is a healthy, including mentally healthy, organisational culture.”
Webster agrees, concluding that while there are further steps businesses can take, mental health care must start with company culture.
“People, including those in leadership positions, will only be open about their challenges when they are ready. If the company culture is right, people will feel comfortable to share, regardless of their position.”
How to implement mental health first aiders?