Let’s face it: life has gotten really, really hard. The pandemic hit and forever altered our lives. Our world and culture are significantly different and more divided than before. We don’t have the level of interaction with other people that we used to have, and we’re social beings…that has a significant effect on us. Our individual lives also have changed, and challenges and problems have been heightened in the last year or two. It’s a lot to handle, and it’s really weighing on us.

We were proud to sponsor the Smarter Services Executive Symposium hosted by the Service Council organization in Chicago the week of September 13. It was fun and energizing to re-engage with people we hadn’t seen in a while. But as great as that was, it was equally alarming to us just how much anxiety and stress people seem to be carrying around with them. It was THE topic of discussion in and out of sessions all week long, and ever since I’ve been thinking about all the stories I heard.

Of course, all of this stress manifests in the workplace as well. There’s no way that people can bring their best to their jobs, colleagues and clients when they’re burned out and disengaged. It’s no wonder, according to the 2021 CEO Benchmarking Report by The Predictive Index, that 56 percent of CEOs said employee performance and productivity is what concerns them most. It’s easily the top concern noted in the study, and the percentage of CEOs who said employee well-being was their top concern grew 20 points year over year.

It can seem like an overwhelming problem, but there are several things businesses can do to promote mental health and wellness:

  1. Be Aware. According to NAMI, one in five people are suffering from some kind of diagnosable mental illness. With the pandemic adding to the stress and anxiety, it’s never been more important to be aware, recognize these trends and tackle them head on. Denial and uncertainty breed dissatisfaction, and only make the problem worse.
  2. Show Understanding. You’d be surprised how much better you can make someone feel by simply acknowledging their situation. Mental health stigmas still exist in our world, and people often are still hesitant to tell their boss or colleague what’s happening in their life because they’re afraid of being judged, or retaliated upon, or losing something they value (job, responsibility, compensation) for simply speaking their truth. Those stigmas cause a culture in which we don’t want to let on that “we’re not okay.” The more you listen to them and show compassion, the easier it will be for them to talk to you about whatever’s on their mind.
  3. Provide Health and Wellness Resources. Offer a full suite of resources and incentivize staff to use it. Be sure they know there won’t be any penalty in any way for doing so. Also, include peer-to-peer and mentor-based opportunities. We all need more companionship these days, and it’s great for team-building. Plus, people often will say things and enjoy experiences in those settings they wouldn’t normally do, because they often can empathize better than others. After all, no one understands your job better than one of your teammates. In life, just as in sports, good teams win.
  4. Be Present. Employee/boss one-on-ones should be prioritized as high as any meetings in your company. Let them talk openly, and just listen – don’t lead or overpower the conversation. Time also should be made for fun and other activities that help provide balance. And when those meetings and activities take place, fully immerse yourself in them and don’t multi-task.
  5. Shut Off and Take Time for You. Staffers often take their cues on when and how much to work from their superiors, so it’s important they see bosses and executives modeling good health and wellness habits. This includes mentally and physically shutting off and being somewhere other than work as much as possible outside of normal business hours.
  6. Promote Consistent Job Utilization. If you expect your staff to work a regular schedule, then make sure they have the proper amount of work to keep them consistently busy during that time. Nothing can be more jarring and stressful than working a lot of extra hours one week, then not being very busy the next. Of course urgent needs will arise, but the goal is to keep things as steady and similar as possible.

There are plenty of resources available to help you and your organization prioritize and encourage employee mental health and wellness. Most HR organizations, health clinics and local/regional governments offer great tools and can refer you to others. The National Alliance on Mental Health is a great resource, and has a hotline for anyone with a question or concern. There are several great lists of top regional and national organizations that advance mental health, including this post on the Choosing Therapy blog. I also co-founded the Will to Live Foundation, which focuses on promoting mental health in children and their families. No matter what you choose to do, know that awareness and understanding of people’s struggles will go a long, long way – and sharing some of your time and compassion can make a big difference.

We all have had a tough time the last couple of years, and we should all do our best to create a culture where it is “OK to not be OK!”  The struggle is real, but we don’t have to do it alone. Your teammates are here for you, so don’t hesitate to reach out to them and a mental health professional and talk about it!