Aaron Harvey has struggled with severe OCD for as long as he can remember. Not one to sit by idly, he is now the?Founder, Made of Millions & Ready Set Rocket, and in this piece, he discussed the snowball effect when the top of an organisation demonstrates openness around emotional health.Employers have a vested interest in the wellness and productivity of their workforce. Yet, in many countries, people with mental illness end up in the workplace untreated, misdiagnosed or living in denial.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that 46mn?people across ages and ethnic backgrounds suffer from some form of mental illness - while fewer than half seek treatment. Depression alone affects 300mn?people worldwide and is one of the leading causes of workplace disability claims.
Employees lose an average of US$193.2 billion in earnings due to mental illness, and employers face a degraded workplace environment, employee churn, and rising healthcare and disability costs.
This revolving door of (untreated) mental health issues in the workplace costs everyone money -- and it can only be mitigated when senior leaders and corporate stakeholders take the initiative to address mental wellness from the ground up.
Policy changes at the C-suite levelMindful leadership can be demonstrated at any level of an organisation, but the push to educate and challenge stereotypes around mental wellness should start with the company?s highest ranking officers and stakeholders.
The mounting costs of ignoring the problem can be significantly reduced by offering employees on every rung of the ladder access to education and self-care options.
But if educating the workforce is the first step, encouraging employees to take advantage of mental health benefits is the next, most important step. That means taking an unvarnished look at how the company?s mental health benefits are allocated and paid for.
Is there a gap between how physical and mental health issues are covered in existing health insurance policies? Are efforts being taken to not only provide a comprehensive and parity-driven plan, but educate employees on what?s available and how to take advantage of those services?
If not, internal leaders have to step-up and ensure that plans are fair and balanced, and that their team is fully briefed on the breadth of their coverage options.
There should be legal protections in place to ensure that personal information is handled properly and that potential liability issues are taken seriously.
Top-down communication to foster a more open culturePolicy changes ensure that there?s a structure in place, but the C-suite can also take the lead in terms of destigmatising conversations around mental health and wellness, both on official channels like an employee newsletter or Intranet, as well as at the unspoken level of company culture.
That means asking questions about people?s stress levels, the general mood and morale of the team, and sharing these answers in both formal and informal settings. It also requires enough emotional intelligence to gauge whether people are willing to open up and participate in these conversations -- or if there?s a culture of fear, inhibition, and a lack of trust in senior leadership.
When openness around emotional health is demonstrated by the top of an organisation, it can profoundly affect the entire workforce, and engender a culture that promotes mental health literacy, open sharing, and appropriate levels of vulnerability.
Empowering managers (and employees) with education and confidentialityExecutive-level educational oversight can also extend from regular staff training events to one-on-one ?wellness checks? with core management to review workplace challenges, triggers, and stressors that might be interfering with productivity.
Wellness focused initiatives at this level would extend to empowering managers with the tools and insights they need to identify and respond to team members in need of support and accommodation. Are they prepared to react to a potentially disruptive mental health crisis or episode that could adversely impact other employees?
The C-suite also takes a leading role in making sure that everyone is afforded maximum confidentiality and protection when they do come forward for help. There should be legal protections in place to ensure that personal information is handled properly and that potential liability issues are taken seriously.
On a lighter side, executive leadership can be the steward of more uplifting wellness initiatives and team-building activities like in-office yoga or meditation instruction, cooking classes, crafts activities, or providing direct employee access to a monthly rotating mental health professional who visits the office for free consultations.
Managers on the frontline (with preparedness and empathy)Whether an employee is being impacted by his or her colleague?s issue, or they?re reaching out for help themselves, a well-prepared management team should have processes in place that can address any phase of a said employee?s wellness journey, whether it?s burnout, depression, anxiety, mania or another form of mental distress.
They should also be trained on the nuances of intervention, from understanding how to be supportive without using stigmatizing language, as well as not assuming the role of a mental health practitioner (and possibly improperly diagnosing someone in the process).
It falls to the management team to identify and remove emotional triggers in the workplace that bother one employee but go unnoticed by others. Can they effectively resolve conflict or resentment between an employee who has been given certain accommodations and one who has not?
Addressing mental wellness with each rung on the corporate ladderThe workplace is where people spend the majority of their time, which means it?s where they?re most likely to have potentially negative interactions or hit a mental wall.
With growing numbers of people in the workforce facing some form of emotional or stress-related struggle, companies that educate and create policies that impact every tier of the organisation are not only promoting a stronger, more bonded workforce culture, they?re addressing policy and social change that helps everyone take better care of their minds.