In 2019, Mind Share Partners published a report on the prevalence and stigma surrounding mental health challenges in U.S. workplaces. Sixty percent of respondents have not talked to anyone at work about their mental health in the past year. Of those who did, 52% described the conversations as neutral or negative. What is even more noticeable is the finding that employees are less comfortable talking about mental health concerns with human resources professionals and senior leaders. These findings all point to the stigma of talking about mental health issues at work.
Despite the stigma, or perhaps because of it, 86% of respondents think that a company’s culture should support mental health. Employees report that they want more mental health training, better communication about resources, and a more open culture about mental health at work.
The pandemic brings mental health forward.
In an updated report for 2021, Mind Share Partners found that 65% of respondents had talked to someone at work about their mental health in the past year-ignoring the account in the previous report . The report clarified the impact of the pandemic on mental health. Not only is talking about mental health at work more prevalent, but 76% of respondents from all levels of the organization reported experiencing a mental health challenge that year.
These findings are very consistent with my own observations. One year into the pandemic, I spoke to several CEOs about the emotional, psychological, and professional challenges they face. CEOs are under a new form of pressure unlike anything they have experienced, and many feel unfit to navigate the new normal. The worst companies are those with leaders who don’t realize the importance of connecting and communicating with remote or hybrid staff.
A few months after those conversations, employees began to leave their jobs in the company. And we know that the Great Resignation is not primarily about money but bad communication. Employees feel disconnected and ignored by their organizations, which negatively affects their quality of life.
Once seen as unnecessary or discarded as a thought, mental health programs become central to the minds of leaders and employees. Mental health is now something we talk about at work, at home, and with friends. Support for positive mental health is what employees want. Wise leaders listen and strive to be more attentive to the needs of their employees so they can create a better, more engaging culture.
This new conversation about mental health is a nice change.
I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), trauma consultant, and business consultant. I have been teaching people how to communicate and resolve their differences for over 25 years. My clinical and consulting work has expanded from family and personal relationships to the workplace. I consult with Fortune 500 companies, industry experts, and prominent sports figures, politicians, and top executives.
Previously, my work with businesses and executives was more confidential and only by referral.
My clients have always told me that my communication system saves their business, enhances the company culture, and creates stronger relationships. But they always wanted our work to be private. They fear they will be vulnerable if their competition finds out they are consulting someone with a mental health background.
Nowadays, my mental health background and experience working in canals with challenging relationships gives me more credibility. And the companies that take my program, The Communication Protocol, are seen as real leaders in their industries because taking care of your employees and teaching them how to be better communicators is a sign of strong, not weak. Good communication can relieve stress, reduce conflicts, create a positive company culture, and teach people how to cope and express their needs.
Mental health isn’t just about helping those in crisis, it’s something we all need to pay attention to. It’s about people who want to work in reasonable conditions, feel heard, and be seen as an integral part of the larger organization. It’s about knowing that if they encounter a difficult personal or family situation, their employer has systems in place to support them.
Since the topic of mental health at work has finally become normal, I no longer have to lower my mental health background. My work with corporations is no longer by referral only, and my clients are happy to tell the public about our work. The pandemic underscores the importance of effective communication and building strong connections. Most leaders understand that good communication is essential to positive mental health.
How to create a culture that supports positive mental health.
It is not complicated to create an environment that supports positive mental health. Of course, it takes work, but positive change is worth it. You need to have open communication at all levels of your organization from the top down. Here’s how to get started:
- The question. Ask your managers what you or the organization can do better or differently and LISTEN to their answers. Sit on their comments, don’t respond immediately.
- Encourage your managers to communicate with their teams. You want your managers to understand the experiences of their team member working for the organization and being on the team. You want them to know what their team members want to see change or improvement. Ask them to listen to what their teams have to say and report back to you so you know the best way forward.
- Use open communication. Allow your employees to express their concerns without fear of repercussions. They should not be afraid to make mistakes. Instead, mistakes should be used as learning opportunities.
- Discard the snare mentality. Staff should not work alone. They need to communicate with each other and work together as part of a larger system.
- Create mental health support services within your organization. Employee Assistance Programs, counseling, and professional support should be readily available to all staff. And all managers need to be trained in the basics of effective communication.
Having open communication and transparency throughout the organization creates a culture of belonging. It reduces stress, reduces conflicts, improves communication and continuity, and increases productivity. People feel cared for, and the environment is polite and calm.
In such a workplace, mental health needs are supported and can be met as they progress. If communication is open and ongoing, there are fewer crises, and crises that arise are easier to manage.
It’s better for everyone – including your business stakeholders – if mental health is part of your organizational structure and not a shameful taboo that needs to be kept secret.