Mental Health Champions: “Make the emotional well-being of your team a top priority” With Allyson Case Anderson

Kristin Marquet
Jun 24 · 8 min read

As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Allyson Case Anderson. She is the Founder/CEO of Integro, a construction firmed based in Chicago focused on high-end residential projects. She changes lives by transforming environments. See her projects come of life at www.integro-rehab.com.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

I hired a terrible contractor — and let me tell you, there are few things more acutely painful than dealing with a terrible contractor. It affects your finances, it affects your stress levels, it forces you into confrontations, and it creates uncertainty. It feels all-encompassing. When I spoke about my construction experience with friends and colleagues, I was shocked to hear my listeners respond with similar stories of their own.

I have always been passionate about the built environment; my entire career has been rooted in architecture. Chicago has some of the finest examples of architecture in the world and, through my experience, it became clear to me that we will lose this historic architecture if the industry doesn’t change. If clients are afraid of renovation, then they will venture to do work themselves at risk or seek out new construction.

At that time, the real estate market was already shifting in that direction with 19th-century masonry buildings being listed as “tear downs”. I decided that the residential construction industry in Chicago needs to do better, and I became a general contractor to provide a new way of doing business — to create a new level of competition in order to save our historic architecture.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

Americans have been raised with the notion of “The American Dream”. This is the idea that we can achieve anything through hard work. Those last three words: “…through hard work” are what contributes to mental illness. “Grab your bootstraps…”, “Dig in…”, “No pain, no gain…”, “Try, try again …” These are all terms that are familiar to most Americans. These are concepts that are ingrained in our culture and explain that to be successful, you must work hard. Success is insidiously defined by capitalism.

Capitalism is spiraling out of control and tending not to protect the very Americans that are idealizing it. It now typically takes two incomes to maintain a household, the cost of everything keeps rising, and yet The American Dream remains the same. So, we’re all striving for the same goal, but it’s harder to achieve it. We’re working just as hard, if not harder, than the generation before us, but we’re not reaping the same benefits. The age of technology has stimulated every part of our lives from our health to our estate plans. Every aspect of our lives is presented to us from one media outlet or another, always pitching us to do better. Considering all this pressure, sub-conscious or not, mental illness is a natural result. Our society doesn’t celebrate limitations, it celebrates success.

Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?

I de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness by encouraging emotional relationships at work. In our line of work, we are executing major projects with our clients’ personal finances. These are not institutional projects, these are people’s homes. It’s a different dynamic. So, we must be professional AND empathetic. We must give our clients permission to express themselves honestly so that we can understand exactly what they have in mind and manage their expectations accordingly.

I also make the emotional well-being of my team a top priority. I encourage open communication about their feelings regarding our projects. “How are you doing?” is a common question in our office. At Integro, it’s not a polite question, it’s a direct one. I try to breed a culture of empathy between our crews and employees this way — if we can all show each other that we care, and if everyone can communicate honestly, then we have a better shot at getting the job done successfully. In addition to daily interpersonal communication, I also provide each employee with 6-weeks paid vacation. I dictate 3 of those weeks where I shut down our projects and offices, the remaining 3 weeks are at-large. I require all 6 weeks to be used during the year. This way, I can ensure the employees are taking a break about every quarter, so they come back fresh and ready to rock it out. I also strongly encourage everyone to un-sync their phone and email from our server during their time off, evenings, and weekends. I am not impressed by an email coming through at midnight. I think it sets a bad example and is a terrible habit.

I demand high standards from my team, so I need to afford them time to decompress in order for me to reasonably expect them to perform at those levels.

Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?

I understand the incentives. Deals are made based on incentives above anything else — perhaps that incentive is money, perhaps it’s time, perhaps it’s something else. My incentive is the success of my company. When I hire an employee, we’re making a deal. If I want my team to share my goal, then I need to share theirs. Offering 6-weeks paid vacation and encouraging interpersonal empathy among my team allows them the freedom to live a meaningful life outside of their work and view our company as a vehicle for their professional AND personal success.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

Stop pushing for speed, set realistic timelines for initiatives. Stop using sound bites and tag lines, encourage meaningful, inclusive conversations. Understand the difference between being “PC” and being human. I think people are desperate for communities, we — individuals, society, and the government — should be focused on creating them in this new age of technology.

What are the 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1. Sleep. I go to bed within the same time range each evening. My routine is so consistent that my body naturally begins winding down around that time. I really must push myself to stay up later, even if I’m stressed. I also don’t set an alarm in the morning. I may wake up one hour later than from one day to the next, but I always feel rested when I get up. For the most part, I still wake up at the same time every day and will even wake up before an alarm if I have an early meeting. It feels like my sleeping patterns have put my mind in tune with my body.

2. Unsync. I un-sync my email from my phone every evening and weekend. Unless there is an extenuating circumstance, I set strict work hours where I am available. 7 am — 6 pm, Monday to Friday, I’m all yours. Outside of that, make an appointment or, better yet, don’t. Unsyncing my email eliminates that addiction to check my email and allows me to focus on my personal life. How am I going to be able to tangibly resolve an issue after 6 pm? I can’t. All I am going to do is ruin my mood and my sleep cycle, stressing all night about something that will likely be resolved in some capacity first thing in the morning. The problem will still be there first thing in the morning, it’s better than I learn about it then when I have more resources to resolve the issue.

3. Eat. I don’t diet. I generally eat a healthy diet of vegetables and seafood; however, I am an omnivore. I’ve been lucky enough to not have a sweet tooth; however, I do have a salt tooth. I also love to drink alcohol and appreciate a dirty martini (straight up, blue cheese olives!) after a particularly hard day or week followed with a nice glass of wine at dinner. I consider eating a primary source of personal entertainment and stress relief so, when I started seeing my body shift in my 30s, I started working out heavily to compensate.

4. Exercise. What can I say? I work out. I have a personal trainer that I see twice a week for 2–3 hours. Not only does it maintain my physique, it also regulates my stress levels. I exercise midday which forces me to take a step back from my work for a few hours. This has proven beneficial for my business because it allows me to pause and reflect on stress culprits that week. It helps that my personal trainer is also a huge supporter of my success and will patiently listen to my diatribes.

5. Travel. I work out — so where’s the beach? Not far away! That 6 weeks of vacation also applies to me. I do not demand any less from my team than I do from myself, so my mental health is also in jeopardy. My husband and I often take time to travel, decompress, and connect. Our trips are usually at least two weeks at a time.

6. Gifts. I celebrate wins with gifts! Sometimes those gifts are an afternoon off. Sometimes they’re a spa day. Sometimes they’re something for the house. The value of the gift usually corresponds to the win — just won a big project? Let’s get that food processor! Just avoided a disaster? Take a bath! Got everything done this week? Have a martini! Celebrating the small wins remind me to be positive and remember that I’m doing what I love.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

I love This American Life, Radio Lab, and The Moth podcasts. These are stories about average people doing incredible things. It’s relaxing and entertaining. To me, these stories are a reminder that, when it really comes down to it, we’re all just people reacting to the world around us. It’s comforting to be reminded that I’m small, and that small people can make a big impact in a lot of different ways — and those ways often have nothing to do with financial success.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Kristin Marquet

Written by

Publicist and author based in New York City. Founder and Creative Director of FemFounder.co.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.