05.26.2021 Mental Health in the Workplace Author: Kelly Campbell
mental health in the workplace
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This article first appeared on Forbes.com

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The expectations and desires of employees have changed dramatically since early 2020. Unsurprisingly, what many people want, in addition to safety and financial security, is to feel valued, to feel a sense of belonging and to feel supported from a wellness standpoint. Many of these are basic human needs, after all.

As co-founder of Consciousness Leaders, and in my own consultancy as a Conscious Leadership Coach, I have been helping business owners navigate the social/cultural/political discourse with their employees, as well as figure out how to best support them.\

In a recent report by the IBM Institute for Business Value, it was highlighted that “fewer than 1 in 5 employees give their employers excellent marks for supporting worker well-being during the pandemic.”

So, what might leaders need to consider as they make decisions about how best to invest in organizational growth moving forward?

1. Lean Into Uncomfortable Conversations

Don’t fear discussions that cause discomfort; embrace them. By excluding yourself from sociopolitical conversations or banning them within the workplace, you’re making a bold statement — one that is in direct opposition to what your employees want: to be seen, heard and valued as individual contributors to your vision and to the organization’s larger purpose. 

The recent company policy changes at Basecamp and Coinbase are two examples of leaders’ decisions to lean further away from discourse that could have led to healthier environments. 

The impact of leaning out will likely cost your organization, one way or another. From reputation damage to employee exodus (about a third of Basecamp employees have already left, according to TechCrunch), client attrition and even potential corporate collapse.

Use of the term “social impact” in your positioning statement is not required to have an impact on your people, your industry and the environment.

2. Support Mental Health in The Workplace

After over a year of isolation and remote employment, many organizations will probably quickly realize that they are ill-equipped to handle the deluge of emotions that will inevitably follow workplace reacclimation.

That return to the office, regardless of its speed, likely will not bring with it a return to the separation of self — embodying one persona at home, yet another in the office. 

As a society, we have historically accepted the hard line drawn between our personal and professional lives, but that lack of integration was (thankfully) disrupted by the pandemic. Returning to offices again, even on a hybrid schedule, will certainly give rise to anxiety, fear, grief and overwhelm as we navigate the waters of physical and psychological safety each day. Being in proximity with colleagues and clients, potentially fielding questions from HR about vaccination status, and having conversations with colleagues about personal losses during the pandemic and systemic issues will undoubtedly make it more difficult to focus on daily work. 

Employers that choose to embrace the shift toward viewing employees as fully human and to support their people in forward-thinking new ways — such as offering mindfulness or meditation classes, grief coaching, support group facilitation, or somatic movement workshops — will not only have a better chance of retaining talent and increasing engagement; they also will likely attract new candidates fleeing from companies that don’t.

3. Enlist A Spectrum Of Experts To Help

As employers begin to realize that addressing systemic issues like cultural inequity and implicit bias is now crucial, the deep work that follows offers an opportunity to build trust, foster greater collaboration among teams and demonstrate purpose beyond profit.

Since it’s a discipline that must be adopted throughout the entire company, starting from the top, it’s antithetical to believe that an HR department (or person) would be responsible for remedying diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) issues within any business. 

Based on the social and market pressure that organizations now face, it’s time for leaders to accept that a holistic approach is needed: admitting that racism exists without associated blame or shame, unlearning (i.e., breaking down the origins of our thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, feelings and biases) and committing to doing the work by making it a daily practice.

A 45-minute presentation isn’t likely to create lasting positive change within the workplace. In fact, investing so little can have a negative impact on employees.

Instead, implement a long-term, experiential approach — leveraging a combination of engaging speakers, vetted consultants and workshop facilitators, as well as executive leadership coaches to help identify, strategize and work through this nuanced terrain.

I’ve found that the experts who have the most valuable firsthand experience are those who have been historically underrepresented: women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities.

The Wrap-Up

Organizational change requires nothing less than an ongoing commitment. It means leaning into — not away from — uncomfortable conversations, supporting all of your employees how and where they need it most, and considering engagements with diverse experts in mindfulness, somatics, DEIB and cultural transformation, to name a few. 

If you think holistically and consciously by doubling down in support of your people, the money will likely follow your human-centered values — which is why conscious leadership has always been good for business. 

According to IBM, “employee-centric investment is one of the key factors that separate outperforming organizations from their peers. … Outperforming CEOs said they support employee well-being — even if it hurts profitability — nearly twice as often as their underperforming peers.”

The new cultural shift has now acquired unstoppable momentum, and it’s been proven that supreme stewardship of your people can predictably grow bottom-line revenue. As IBM’s report noted, “Employers must demonstrate empathy and care for their employees holistically — by considering their physical, mental, and financial well-being.” 

It also takes courage from leaders because it might seem counterintuitive to what many shareholders have short-sightedly demanded for so long: profit over people.

The pandemic has taught many of us to live more integrated lives, and to be grateful for the lives we have been given, so the question for business leaders is this: How will you lead all of your stakeholders into a just and generative future?

About the author

Kelly Campbell is the founder of Consciousness Leaders and Trauma-Informed Conscious Leadership Coach to self-aware visionaries. She writes for Entrepreneur and has written for Forbes. They are the author of "Heal to Lead" (Wiley, 2024), a new book on transforming past trauma in order to uncover our innate leadership power.