How to be a mental health leader at work

Claire Sanguedolce
Apr 19, 2018 · 5 min read

When an employee calls in sick, nobody bats an eyelash. Often times, employers won’t even require a doctor’s note or any details — a sick day is a totally acceptable, understandable excuse for taking the day off from work.

But when was the last time you heard about one of your colleagues taking a mental health day? Well, when you do, it’s because it made the news.

This exposes a massive problem.

The lingering mental health stigma is no secret. Many still view those who are proactive about their mental health as a sign of weakness. And no, we’re not just talking about the Sopranos — this negative perspective of therapy is very real, extending far beyond the imaginary world of Italian gangsters in a hit TV series and into our workplaces.

So, how do we solve this problem?

First, understanding that prioritizing mental health at work is crucial to a company’s overall success is paramount. Think about it: If employees are burnt out, crippled by anxiety, or dissatisfied with life, how can they be expected to perform? If founders are overwhelmed by startup stress and feeling uninspired, how can they be expected to lead?

The short answer is: They can’t. Just as athletes who don’t treat their bodies properly won’t win any medals, employees who don’t strengthen and protect their minds won’t be able to work effectively, collaborate with team members, or enjoy work (or life, for that matter). A mentally healthy workplace is the key to a successful business.

Here are a few ways to cultivate a mentally healthy workplace:

1. Prioritize office culture

2. Take care of your own

3. Foster good communication

4. Talk about feelings

5. Lead by example

6. Have fun!

7. Do things outside of work

8. Be clear and passionate about your mission, vision, and values

Company-branded socks or meditation rooms aren’t the key ingredients to a better workplace. Trendy office perks and swag are fun, but a mentally healthy workplace is one where employees are provided with an open, accepting, positive environment. It’s a place where people feel valued, supported, and have time and energy left over for friends, family, hobbies, and down-time.

By making just one small change at a time — for example, implementing pre-meeting “emo checks” or a mental health benefit —companies can cut productivity losses, boost retention, and keep employees feeling satisfied and safe.

After all, if you want happy and loyal customers, you’ll want happy and loyal employees, too.

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