Article: CEOs leading the mental health revolution

Leadership

CEOs leading the mental health revolution

CEOs are championing mental health by fostering open dialogue, work-life balance, and expanding wellness resources.
CEOs leading the mental health revolution

For too long, the corporate world has overlooked the importance of mental well-being in the workplace. The old mentality was that employees should leave their problems at home and just power through their work duties, no matter what mental health challenges they might be facing. It has become obvious now that an unhappy stressed person will not be able to even complete their work in an efficient and timely manner. Thus, forward-thinking companies are now embracing a more holistic approach where mental health is not only supported but actively cultivated as a core part of their culture and benefits.

The high costs of ignoring mental health

Workers and businesses alike are facing a notable rise in mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder among employees. According to a 2023 Business Group on Health survey, in 2022, 44% of employers observed a surge in these concerns, but that number jumped to 77% in 2023, with 16% of employers expecting a further increase in the future. Neglecting workplace mental health initiatives presents significant business risks. According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety alone cost the global workforce approximately $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

A survey conducted across 4 lakh people and reported by IndiaToday mentioned that in India, more than half of the respondents (50.7 per cent) in the age group of 18-24 years were distressed and struggling mentally. This number stood at 42.9 per cent in the age group of 25-34 years, 28.7 per cent for those between 35-44 years, and 17.6 per cent in the age group of 45-54 years.

But apart from the numbers, it is also a question for us as a society: are we doing enough to handle the mental health side-effects of the cultural and economic shift our country and society are going through?

A multifaceted approach to supporting mental wellness

Opening the dialogue: The first step for the CEO and management team is to open up an honest dialogue about mental health in the workplace and work to destigmatise the issue. Many CEOs are doing this by sharing their own experiences with mental health, offering training to help managers identify potential mental health struggles in employees, and hosting company-wide sessions focused on mental health education, yoga, and meditation. The goal is to create an environment where employees feel safe to be open and vulnerable about their mental well-being without fear of repercussions; and also motivated enough to take corrective steps in the right direction.

Prioritising work-life balance: Excessive working hours, lack of boundaries, and the inability to unplug are major contributors to burnout, anxiety, and depression. As such, CEOs are establishing policies and norms aimed at giving employees true work-life balance. This includes offering hybrid office work days, ensuring official communication happens mostly during working hours, and company outings to experience nature and leisure. By giving employees back control of their personal time, the hope is that they can recharge and find more equilibrium.

Expanding mental health resources (meditation, yoga, counselling sessions, sports): Beyond just fostering dialogue and promoting balance, many CEOs are bolstering their companies' mental health resources and support. Common offerings now include providing all employees access to meditation and yoga tools, including apps/videos/training sessions, partial or full reimbursements for mental health boosting programs like meditation/yoga courses, or counselling sessions. By making mental health resources readily available and affordable, CEOs remove barriers to employees getting the help and support they need. Some companies take additional detailed steps for employee well-being, such as counselling sessions and additional leave on a case-by-case basis where employees might be facing severe mental health issues or negative situations in their surroundings/family.

Nurturing friendships within team members: This is the most overlooked aspect of mental well-being at a company. It is a natural human tendency to feel happy and satisfied when they are working and having lunch/tea with their friends and not just work-mates. The notion that you cannot have friends at the workplace needs serious questioning and a friendly environment to communicate freely is what makes people stick longer in a company. The CEO's responsibility is to ensure that any hierarchy in the company doesn’t result in oppression and that there are enough work and non-work initiatives which require small teams to work together; also helping them to foster long-term friendships.

Leading through vulnerability and sharing personal experience: In companies taking mental wellness seriously, the CEO is setting the example by exhibiting vulnerability. Executives and managers are openly discussing their personal experiences and steps on negating mental health issues, emphasising the importance of being responsible for caring for oneself and teammates; and making it clear that prioritising mental health is not just allowed but expected. The message is that success does not have to come at the expense of personal wellbeing. Rather, taking care of one's mental health is viewed as essential to bringing one's best self to work each day.

An ongoing cultural shift

However, company leaders acknowledge that establishing a culture of mental wellness is an ongoing journey, not a simple check-box initiative. "Changing deeply-rooted mindsets takes consistent effort over time. While progress still needs to be made across most industries, the rising focus on employee mental health signals an important shift in how companies view their role in supporting their people's overall well-being. Successful businesses are realising that prioritising mental wellness is not just the right thing to do but a strategic imperative for long-term growth and sustainability.

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Topics: Leadership, Corporate Wellness Programs, #Wellbeing, #HRCommunity

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