By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
If you’ve been following Future of Field Service for any amount of time, hopefully you know I am passionate about the discussion around mental health. It’s such an important topic, one that impacts me personally, and thankfully one that is beginning to get more attention – and action – in the workplace.
However, while I’m among the ranks that are thankful greater attention is being given to the need for better mental health support at work, there’s still much to be done. Many stigmas still exist, many organizations lag far behind what’s acceptable in accepting the need for more focus on mental health, and many individuals are still struggling without the resources and support they need and deserve. And therefore, the quest to talk about this topic in an actionable way continues!
To that end, this week, I am thrilled to welcome to the podcast Darcy Gruttadaro, Director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health, part of the APA Foundation. Our podcast episode is on six ways to address employee burnout and it’s a must-listen coming Wednesday. In the meantime, I wanted to share from my conversation with Darcy eight facts around mental health that I feel we all need to better understand and urge action on.
#1: We All Have Mental Health
This is such an important point to start with – that we all have mental health, and we all deserve for our mental health to be supported at work. “We all have mental health and mental health exists along a continuum,” explains Darcy. “So, our mental health may be in a really solid, healthy place even if we live with a mental health condition like anxiety, depression or another one. Or it may be slipping, and it may be that it’s really not doing well at all. Mental health exists along a continuum.”
Whether you have an employee that is generally healthy but going through a hard time or has a mental health condition that is very well-managed, it’s important for them to feel supported in the workplace. It’s also important for employers and leaders to understand that many incredibly high performers achieve all they do while managing a mental health condition. “We know that people living with mental health conditions exist along the continuum from frontline healthcare workers to the C-suite,” says Darcy. “Having a mental health condition does not limit your ability to perform at an exceptionally high level.”
#2: We All Share Responsibility Around Mental Health at Work
Second, we all must accept that we have a personal responsibility around mental health at work. While companies should absolutely be prioritizing an investment in creating and expanding mental health programs, a lot of the foundational work begins with individuals. “There are myths and stereotypes that persist around mental health, that it’s this dark scary condition that makes people act in ways that any of us would be sort of ashamed of in a sense, but that’s all changing because more and more people are being upfront about the fact that they’re feeling anxious, depressed, or they’re struggling with the substance use issue,” explains Darcy. “The more people talk about it, the more others are willing to come out and say, you’re not alone. I’m experiencing this too.”
Being open about struggles and needs is one way the conversation takes hold and reduces or eliminates those long-standing stigmas, but even if you have no current personal mental health challenges to speak of, you should be contributing to creating a supportive workplace for those who may. “It’s important to remember that the workplace is what we make it and that all of us have a contribution to make in creating a caring culture,” Darcy emphasizes. “Whether you are brand new to the organization and at an entry level or are at a C-level, you can make a difference. It really is about caring for each other and asking, ‘Are you okay? You don’t seem like yourself. I’m just checking in to make sure everything’s good.’ And the more we do that, the more we create that caring culture that people want to be part of. It’s important to remember every little bit counts.”
#3: Improving Mental Health at Work is Key to Your Talent Strategy
Are you aware there is a greater expectation among younger talent that companies have structured mental health programs and ample support in place? Putting effort into a mental health program will not only help you to ensure your existing talent is engaged, supported, and healthier, but it is becoming a facet of recruiting new talent as well.
“We know from surveys that younger generations are more comfortable talking about this. They have an expectation that the workplace will address these issues,” says Darcy. “They’re looking for programs when they’re making decisions about careers and where they want to work. The expectations are growing that organizations will provide mental health services and support. That it will be visible, that it will be talked about. They are really looking for that. And because we know 4 million people left their jobs during the pandemic, we are in a very competitive work environment and candidates have choice. So, you want to be the place people want to go to and be part of every day.”
It’s understood that high performers can have mental health conditions, so for companies looking to attract and retain high performing talent, having support in place can help these employees stay ahead of any issues and take care of their needs. “Right now, employers are really looking for high performing individuals in the service industry, in the tech industry, in the finance industry. And we know that people who are high performers may have mental health conditions,” says Darcy. “So, companies recognize the increased need for services and support.”
Finally, employers should understand there is a connection between mental health support and employee engagement. “If you’re an employee in an organization that shows they care about you, not just your physical health, but your mental health too, you’re going to go to work every day and feel much better about the fact that your organization cares about you. In turn, you will be more likely to be a high performer, whether you live with a condition or not,” says Darcy. “Employees in the field, they are representing the brand of the organization. And the more they feel good about what they’re doing because they’re being treated well and they’re in a culture that cares about them, the more they’re going to project a positive image for the brand.”
#4: Male Dominated Industries Lag in Addressing Mental Health
When you consider that much of our audience is comprised of industries that are still male-dominated, it’s important to acknowledge the reality that these industries tend to lag in normalizing mental health and creating at-work support. “Stigma is associated with mental health conditions in many industries. I think industries that tend to be male dominated, like many that have people who work out in the field, there can be perceptions that you should be tough. Just stick it out, suck it up,” explains Darcy. “There’s this tendency to want to send the message that they’re strong and they’re tough and that somehow mental health can be linked with weakness. We still all must work at breaking down some of those stereotypes and breaking down the stigma.”
How do we do this? There’s no quick or easy way but recognizing the impact of opening up personally and being willing to engage in conversation is an important start. “There’s a real opportunity, but we have to chip away. It’s not like we’re going to wake up one day and the stigma will be gone. We all have some responsibility, like we’re doing here, to have conversations about it and to say it’s not a matter of weakness. It could be really a matter of strength to seek help when you need it,” says Darcy.
#5: Mental Health Initiatives Don’t Need Require a Huge Investment
I find this point to be so very important, which is mental health initiatives do not need to be based on a big budget or huge investment. This could be a barrier for organizations in taking action, so I appreciated Darcy pointing out that companies of any size, scale, and financial status can take steps to have a positive impact.
“A focus on mental health is not a massive investment. This is recognizing human nature and reminding employees they’re appreciated and rewarding them when the time is right,” explains Darcy. “I mean, one simple piece of advice is for managers and leaders to ask themselves, is this an organization that I feel good about being part of on a daily basis? And if it’s not, what minor changes can we make to make it more so?”
Just starting there is starting – and that matters far more than feeling you must have a perfectly planned formal program to “begin.” Darcy also suggests asking your employees for their input. “Think about surveying your employees because they have really good ideas,” she says. “Believe it or not, it’s often not about a lot of frivol that’ll cost a lot of money. It’s sometimes just simple policy changes that are very workable that can make all the difference in the world. And this all hits the bottom line when it comes to retention and recruitment and really meeting the organizational goals.”
#6: Leadership Sets the Tone on Mental Health at Work
While it is important to ensure your company is taking a programmatic approach to prioritizing mental health and providing employees support, it’s also important to remember that authenticity and a personal touch can be the difference in how that program feels to your employees. “A check-the-box approach does not work well. If you do one training and say, we did a mental health training, we are good, that is not going to make a big change for your organization. And leadership sets the culture,” cautions Darcy. “So, the more leadership is visible in talking about mental health, the more it’s happening at a leadership level and operational and managerial level.”
We all get busy, and often leaders are juggling immense responsibility. But making a human connection with your team a priority is well worth the effort. “It’s really important to recognize we all get busy and sometimes we forget,” says Darcy. “Create simple reminders around I’m part of the culture, I need to be real about making it a mentally healthy culture, and so on.”
#7: Burnout Isn’t an Individual Issue
As I mentioned, the podcast with Darcy that will publish on Wednesday is discussing six ways employers can alleviate burnout. I won’t give too many spoilers here, but I will say that Darcy expressed that we must recognize that burnout isn’t simply and individual issue – and that it was becoming a major issue even before the pandemic. “Burnout became an issue of major concern in 2019 when the World Health Organization announced a new definition. It is not a product of COVID-19,” explains Darcy. “It’s important to know that because we were already heading into concerns with occupational burnout and that has obviously been intensified.”
While every individual has a responsibility to take care of themselves and speak up if they need support from their employer, Darcy stresses the fact that we cannot blame burnout solely on individuals or expect the issue to resolve without the shared ownership of employers. “I think when people think of burnout, they think individuals should just get over it. More exercise, more sleep, better diet, don’t take stress so seriously,” she describes. “What the research shows is that, yes, we have individual responsibility when it comes to burnout, but there’s a huge amount of responsibility that comes from organizational change, operational change.”
#8: There Are Ample Resources to Support Businesses Making Mental Health a Priority
Before I was introduced to Darcy for the podcast, I wasn’t familiar with the Center for Workplace Mental Health or the resources it provides – free of cost. So, if you are struggling with where or how to start or feel your employer is lacking in their efforts around mental health, know that there are resources to help increase awareness, provide information, and assist in creating impactful programs. Learn more at www.workplacementalhealth.org.