Whether you’re part of an entrepreneurial startup or a long-established company, a crisis of mental well-being impacts your organization. It may even be touching you personally.
The latest Global Burden of Disease study claims over 1.1 billion people worldwide (a sizeable 15% of our planet’s population) face mental or substance use disorders, with anxiety and depression heading the list. A Lancet Commission of psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and public health professionals further says that today’s watershed of mental illnesses will cost the global economy up to $16 trillion by 2030, harming individuals, communities, organizations, and countries worldwide if we fail to respond. This undoubtedly includes people who work for, partner with, buy from, fund, and serve you — the human family that keeps your business viable.
Yet, mental illness is only part of the mental well-being story. In the US alone, for example, overstress at work contributes to accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, lower morale, diminished productivity, and direct medical, legal, and insurance costs at a pricetag of $300 billion every year. Today’s workplaces are too frequently powered by what I call the five disses — disconnection, disengagement, distraction, disenchantment, disease — rather than the human well-being that fuels innovation and growth. While not everyone may experience a mental illness in their lifetimes, all of us can proactively take strides to protect and enrich our mental well-being.
NOW MORE THAN EVER, YOUR ROLE IS TO LEAD MENTAL WELL-BEING
We live and work in an age of increasing anxiety, complexity, and disruption. It can be bewildering. Consequently, to cultivate an organization in which people truly thrive, mental well-being must be at the top of your leadership agenda.
When your leadership stands for mental well-being, you proactively use your assets — from brands and partnerships to the design of work itself — to uplevel human development. You steward environments, resources, and work practices that enable employees to show up energized, engaged, productive, and mentally and physically well given their unique capacities and circumstances. You help cultivate a resourcefulness within people to meet their demands in life and work with greater ease, effectiveness, and resilience.
LEADING MENTAL WELL-BEING WITH 11 STEPS
There are countless strategies for leading mental well-being; one size doesn’t fit all. Here are 11 macro-steps and micro-shifts to help you get started.
Macro-steps are larger commitments you make to promote mental well-being company-wide.
- Revisit the purpose, vision, and values driving your organization. Each of these elements directs human energy toward particular results. Are you producing results in a way that exhausts people or builds their psychological resourcefulness and resilience? Make sure mental well-being is integral to your company’s strategic framework.
- Get smarter (and go wider) in your views about mental well-being. From the Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health to the Global Wellness Institute’s groundbreaking Mental Wellness Initiative whitepaper, a host of initiatives have done the legwork for you. Now, it’s your turn: How will you translate these insights about mental well-being into approaches relevant to your workforce?
- Commit to a psychologically well culture. You cannot sincerely foster mental well-being in a toxic workplace. Take steps to build (or rebuild) your work culture on the foundation of trust and safety rather than fear, and learning and growth rather than perfection. Authentic connection is key as well — embrace communication practices where people are respected, valued and heard, where teammates can express different (even challenging) viewpoints, and where everyone’s contributions matter.
- Make sure your incentive plans enhance rather than harm. A new study of over 300,000 full-time employees from 1,309 companies in Denmark found a 5.4 percent increased likelihood that employees used medications for anxiety and depression when their organization converted to a pay-for-performance strategy. This is costly for employees, families, and companies. Take an honest look at your incentive schemes: How do they impact the mental well-being of your employees?
- Redesign work to optimize mental well-being. Wise employers are boosting mental well-being and productivity through biophilic workspaces, purpose-driven teamwork, inclusive recruitment and promotion practices, the use of transtech, and so much more; they are even revamping the once sacred “5-day” workweek altogether. It’s time to strategically ask: How can we design our work, work relationships, and work-spaces so that employees leave work more refreshed, capable, and well than when they came?
- Invest in the mental well-being of your future workforce. Patterns of mental health begin much earlier than we once thought. Even prenatal exposure to overstress — for instance, constant worries or poor lifestyle behaviors of the parents, air pollution, and natural disasters — can create adverse epigenetic mechanisms that influence the mental health of the child. These are your employees of tomorrow: How can your organization promote mental well-being in parents and parents-to-be, and as a result, in children who are not yet born?
Micro-shifts are practices you can do to promote mental well-being in real time.
- Use every meeting as a mental well-being inoculation. Your team likely spends a huge amount of time in meetings. That may not change anytime soon, yet how you run meetings can. For the first 5-10 minutes of each meeting, lead a revitalizing stretch, conscious breath, gratitude practice, or mindset “check in” to reduce reactivity and stress, enhance mental clarity and positive energy, and foster openness, connection, and trust.
- Ensure diverse voices are heard. The next time your team is working through a challenge, save at least 10 minutes to ask, “Who has not had a chance to speak?” or “What perspectives have we not yet heard?” Then, listen, listen, listen. Doing so will go far in giving people permission and a safe environment to think and speak freely, clear marks of a mentally-healthy team.
- Make a list of the team’s well-being robbers. Signs that your team is troubled are: a persistently subdued team mood; lack of focus or engagement by team members; countless hours being worked yet with mediocre results; regular breakdowns between your team and others; frequent blow-ups, distress, and negativity at team meetings; and increased number of sicknesses and absences. Use these signs as an opportunity to make mental well-being a team priority.
- Ask team members to create micro-goals for thriving. Encourage each person to do something every day that supports their personal well-being. A great question they can use is, “What small thing can I accomplish today to show up as my best self?” Help them downsize the goal — a walking meeting, a kind deed, a healthier meal, a five-minute meditation — any small act that helps people uplevel their mental well-being will do!
- Invite team members to take charge. There are many evidenced-based pathways for mental well-being — play, dance, sleep, massage, nutrition, the gut microbiome, nature, yoga, meditation, exercise, music, art, and brain games are just a few. Ask each person to choose an avenue they will initiate on their own — and make mental well-being part of team spirit by getting team members to support one another.
TAKE A LOOK IN THE MIRROR
I believe a wellspring of well-being resides at the core of every person; the job of an effective leader is to help people connect to and harness this capacity within. If you are perpetually overextended or disengaged, however, you are less likely to bring out the best in others or, quite frankly, yourself.
A good starting point for leading mental well-being is to take a candid look in the mirror. Do you feel internally well-resourced to meet the challenges of life and work? Do you use daily practices to care for your mental well-being? Do you know how to get support when you need it?
In a study my team recently led with over 300 leaders to assess 19 factors of thriving, we found “high-thrivers” more likely to report expansive states of awe and appreciation in their lives, a clear vision and deeper purpose to guide their decisions, healthier lifestyle behaviors, greater resilience during change, and the psychological resources for energizing and maximizing the potential of others. So aptly stated by Prince Harry, HRH the Duke of Sussex, “…good mental health — mental fitness — is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities, and a purpose-driven self.” Your mental well-being is the very foundation of living fully, leading effectively, and contributing to a better organization and a well world.