Guest Commentary: Mental health within the modern workplace

Healthy Support

By Sentari Minor and Todd Sanders | Guest Commentary

Editor’s Note: Sentari Minor is vice president of strategy and chief of staff at evolvedMD in Scottsdale. Todd Sanders is the president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

For the betterment of companies across Metro Phoenix, their dynamic, well-skilled workforce, and the Valley as a vibrant, thriving community, mental and behavioral health must be addressed and made a priority.

The economic impact alone is undeniable with depression causing an estimated 200 million lost workdays annually, costing employers up to $44 billion in lost productivity.

Prioritizing behavioral wellness in the workplace can positively impact employee morale, performance, and well-being. Placing an emphasis on the issue also helps foster open dialogue about mental health, leading to better understanding and support for those struggling with mental health disorders or other illnesses.

The data is clear: businesses that recognize the importance of prioritizing mental health can create an environment of trust and respect, leading to improved productivity and success. Other benefits include reduced stigma around the topic and more accessible resources for those struggling with mental health. This is beneficial for employees and businesses, as it can lead to greater job satisfaction and reduced turnover rates. By acknowledging the importance of mental health in the workplace, businesses can create a more supportive atmosphere for everyone involved.

The truth is, employees are demanding it. The formerly taboo topic is now water cooler talk, and where leaders once asked employees to keep their personal lives at home, today it is not only allowed but encouraged to bring your full self to work. That full self includes being candid and transparent about your mental health. And with this new approach comes a need for companies and brands to focus on more resources, training, and culture building around mental health at work.

For business leaders, there are three things you can do right now to help your company foster a mental health ready culture: learn how to recognize burnout; recognize the impact of managers within the organization; and promote psychological safety.

Burnout, which is defined as one or more symptoms of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and/or lost sense of personal accomplishment, is common.

So common that 76% of employees experience burnout on the job at least sometimes and 28% experience burnout “very often” or “always.” Burnout looks different for everyone but for your employees it can be disengaging from work, taking more sick days, not enjoying the job like before, and not showing up as their best selves. If you’re a good leader, trust me, you’ll know it when you see it. When you see it, acknowledge it, and talk to your people, and better yet, equip your managers to effectively support their teams.

Managers, in fact, have a huge impact on their employees’ mental health and wellbeing. Data shows that for most people, their manager has more impact on their mental health than their therapist or doctor and equal to their significant other. Managers matter and also show just how work can influence the well-being of workers.

Spend time on intentional training for managers to recognize burnout and talk about it. Coach them to lean into hard conversations and make sure your human resources department is equipped with the resources necessary to handle difficult situations. The modern manager is a manager committed to taking care of the whole person, not just professional selves.

To combat burnout and to equip managers and people leaders, there must be an underlying sense of psychological safety — the ability for employees to provide feedback without retaliation, to question without repercussions, and to truly be authentic and vulnerable within the workplace.

Psychological safety allows for real responses to the question, “how are you doing?” and it demands the person on the other end to truly care. Promoting psychological safety isn’t as hard as it seems, it just requires an elevated level of caring and vulnerability and a complete loss of ego.

For modern companies to reach their full potential and thrive, how they view behavioral health must change. Recruitment, retention, and bottom-line results depend on how you address mental health in your organization. If you want to attract top talent and create a world-class workforce, mental and behavioral health must become a top priority.

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