Mental Health At Work Doesn’t Matter If

Mental Health At Work Doesn’t Matter If image DATE: August 24, 2021

Some people are exhausted with the talk about mental health in the workplace and culture in the organization. They want their people to ‘just show up and do the job they were hired to do’. Do you feel the same way or differently?

Honestly, I can understand that frustration.

And, mental health doesn’t matter in the whole scheme of work if you don’t care about performance and retention among your team. Let me say that again — mental health doesn’t matter if you don’t care about performance and retention among your team.

But if you do care about improving performance and/or employee retention, then mental health, in fact, does matter — big time. And leaders who want to develop successful teams must do something to address this hot topic.

Mental Health Was Taboo

People, culture, society didn’t talk about their mental health, stress levels, anxiety, etc. at work very much at all 30-40 years ago. But, there’s been a noticeable shift in the last 10-15 years or so. What used to be seen as weakness, is now viewed as strength. Where, when, and how did the shift happen?

Admitting mental health challenges used to be seen as a weakness. Now it is viewed as a strength.

-Alyson Van Hooser

What we know is that a society’s expectations are the result of their shared experiences. Think about this for a moment, from a mainstream media perspective, we’ve seen many well-known, successful, people — leaders in their own industry — publicly admit that they’re struggling mentally. And the more people talk about it, the more they are praised.

3 Mainstream Public Mental Health Awareness Examples

Think about Justin Bieber. He’s been an open book throughout his rough season. He’s written albums about it, discussed it in interviews, and shares more about it on his social media channels. He chose to take a big break from work in order to get his mental health in check. He’s been really public about his journey which is playing into creating a new expectation of what is normal and necessary in the workplace.

Consider Naomi Osaka, a professional tennis player. Earlier this year, she chose not to do a press conference after the French Open because she said the way they’re set up, they can be really damaging to the mental health of tennis players. Playing tennis is her job. She needs her mental health in order to perform well at work.

Most recently, as you can probably guess, Simone Biles, the Olympic gymnast with the most world championship medals. She backed out of some events in the Olympics this year because of what the media named “mental health” reasons.

With an increasing number of top leaders talking about mental health over the past several years, employees are showing up to work expecting mental health to be a normal part of decision making, performance evaluation, and employee engagement.

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What Is Mental Health

Let’s get this out of the way. Mental health and mental illness are not the same thing for today’s purposes. Here’s an example: Someone may not be handling their stress well, that’s a mental health issue that leaders should be addressing. However, if someone on your team is schizophrenic, let licensed doctors handle that.

At one point, Simone Biles said she had the “twisties”, meaning she was disoriented while she was flipping in the air. That’s dangerous, right? Justin Bieber talks about being emotionally overwhelmed and lonely, which affected his ability to think clearly and perform well. That would be an issue at work, right?

Mental health is a broad scale.

Simply put, the discussion at work regarding mental health should center around how your people are dealing with the stress of managing home life (no such thing anymore as leaving home life at the door when you get to work), responsibilities at work, communication with coworkers, and performance expectations. An employee’s ability, or lack thereof, to deal with all of that in a mentally healthy way will affect their productivity and their ability to reach their full potential.

One Action For Leaders

When we think about mental health and those examples that I gave where people backed down from their work in order to take care of themselves…what would happen if the majority of your employees decided to back away from work and prioritize their mental health? Or, what if they didn’t choose to quit and leave, but instead chose to quit and stay?

In order to help you avoid both of those negative outcomes, here’s one simple action you can take to start addressing mental health with your team:

Stop talking to your employees about the importance of mental health and start talking with your employees about their individual mental health.

You may think mental health is not an issue with your employees right now. Don’t miss what could actually be happening right under your nose. Your team may be wildly struggling with mental health issues, but you’ll never know that if you don’t hear it from them.

The Mental Health Conversation

Don’t ask other people how an employee is doing, their biases will likely cloud their judgment and comments. Do schedule a one-on-one, private meeting to discuss mental health with your direct reports.

When you have that conversation, hear me carefully because I don’t say this often, I want you as the leader to talk first. Now, you might be thinking, what in the world? Isn’t listening critically important? Yes, it is critically important! But with such a personal topic as mental health, your people need to be able to feel like they can trust you. You need to create a judgment-free zone. You have to do that before they’re ever going to open up and be truthful to you about their own mental health or things that they’re struggling with.

Start by talking about why you want to discuss mental health — because of it’s affect personally and professionally on their well-being. Then, talk about where you have struggled in the past or where you’re currently struggling. Talk about how you sought out help in the past or what you did to overcome the issues you were working through. If you’re currently working through your own issues, be open about that. Vulnerability creates an opportunity for an authentic connection between you and your employees.

After you’ve shared, ask them how they’re struggling, ask them what they need from you, and then take action to make it happen. If there is something you can do, do it. If there’s nothing you can do, then you need to explain that to them…explain your heart — that you want to help, but there’s nothing you can do. Maybe you just need to point them towards better resources. Maybe there is something practical you can do, i.e. change their job responsibilities, change their schedule, help them build better relationships with their coworkers, etc.

Your Success Depends on Your Willingness to Serve

Ultimately, this conversation can go in a lot of different directions. If you choose and are bold and courageous enough to be vulnerable enough to open up to people about where you struggle, you’re opening the door for an opportunity to create more loyalty, to create an authentic relationship, to create more honesty at work. While their response could be different, one thing in my mind is certain that when you’re real with people, eventually they’re going to be real with you. In a world full of filters and fillers, employees want the truth. Employees want leaders who care. Employees want leaders who take action.

Mental health is not always a fun, exciting, positive conversation. Oftentimes, it’s tough. But great leaders shouldn’t put off difficult responsibilities. Your team’s success depends on your willingness to serve their needs effectively. And mental health is a need that cannot be ignored.

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About The Author:

Alyson Van Hooser, Leadership Keynote Speaker, Trainer on Millennials, Gen Z & Women in Business With the grit that only comes from tough experiences, Alyson has learned a thing or two about personal and professional success. From her management experience with Walmart, as an elected city council member, bank manager — all before the age of 30 — Alyson has wisdom well beyond her years! Her podcast, Stake: The Leadership Podcast, offers a fresh perspective on leadership and helps multiple generations successfully work together! Connect with Alyson on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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