Leaders must be honest about their mental well-being

Adrien Gaubert, co-founder at myGworkThe LGBTQ+ business community.

With mental health issues on the rise in the workplace, I was recently alarmed to learn that workers around the world are afraid of disclosing their mental health concerns to their employers.

Research from digital mental health service provider Morneau Shepell discovered that mental health is still a taboo topic for many young professionals. In fact, it showed that about half of young people fear it could negatively impact their career progression, despite increasing efforts to reduce the associated stigma, especially in countries like the US, UK and Australia. The findings make sense, given that very few leaders are truly open and honest about their own mental health issues.

This particular study also found that young Americans, British and Australians with declining well-being are turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as alcohol or drugs, to deal with the cumulative stress and uncertainty they face at work. This is a hugely worrisome issue, especially for marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ+ community.

Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ community members are “significantly more likely to have mental illness and turn to substance abuse than heterosexual people,” according to research conducted by Glasgow Caledonian University and UCL researchers. These studies show that a disproportionate number of LGBTQ+ people use alcohol to self-medicate for high levels of stress, anxiety and depression, mostly due to ongoing gay/bi/transphobia at work and in society as a whole. And those with more than one intersectional identity (i.e. those who belong to more than one marginalized group) are at greater risk of depression and mental health problems as a result of discrimination or harassment, as many experts on our platform, myGwork, will tell you.

Leaders are also not immune to mental health problems. A questionnaire conducted by leadership consultancy DDI and HR analyst Josh Bersin emphasized that leaders burn out at record speed and as a result are four times more likely to leave their positions. Of course, I wasn’t surprised by these findings, as earlier this year I also took a break to specifically look after my mental health.

As a leader, I have a responsibility to come to work every day with a positive vibe and to be creative and patient, but that became more and more difficult. So I took a mental health break during a wellness retreat in Bali and was open about it with my team. Members of my team staff expressed their gratitude for my transparency and trust in them, and many in turn shared their own experiences with mental health.

After posting my retreat experience, many of my LinkedIn followers described my actions as “brave” to be honest about my experience and emphasized the need for more leaders to come out and share their mental health experiences so that conversations about mental health be normalized at work. Admitting that I need a break to take care of my mental health is no longer seen as a weakness, but as a necessity for leaders who want to be seen as authentic and empathetic role models. I also believe that if more leaders were open about mental health issues, more young people of all backgrounds would not be afraid to share their mental health issues with their bosses, and as a result, companies would retain valuable talent, which is currently in limited supply.

By being empathetic to what they are going through, you as a manager or boss can also point out benefits for the well-being of the company (if you have any) or outside sources of advice/help, such as MIND. For example, at myGwork, we provide all our employees with comprehensive health insurance, which also contributes to a gym membership to help staff take care of both their mental and physical well-being, which I believe is closely linked and contributes to high performance.

Providing fringe benefits is essential for a healthy workplace and promoting mental wellbeing at work is a must to retain your workforce. The younger generations, especially Gen-Z, place a high priority on wellbeing and are unwilling to give up their work-life balance to join the rat race, as numerous other studies show.

I also keep a close eye on my team through regular team communication and face-to-face meetings to ensure they maintain a work-life balance and do not work overtime. Since they have already shared my mental health issues, they also know they can approach me with personal/stressful issues. This empathetic leadership approach not only helps reduce staff burnout, but in the long run helps retain valuable staff.

In summary, my top five tips for other leaders to promote a healthy workplace culture are:

1. Create a flexible workplace culture that promotes work-life balance. Encourage your employees to leave the office on time or turn off their laptops when working remotely. And don’t expect them to respond to emails outside office hours unless it’s urgent.

2. Communicate regularly with your team to see how each individual is doing and schedule regular one-on-one meetings to frequently review their workload. These meetings are a great way for you to discover who may be stressed from being overworked and who on the team has extra capacity to take on more work/projects.

3. Be empathetic and offer extended wellness breaks to any employee struggling with their mental health. One way to prevent burnout is to have employees take their annual leave and not allow days to be carried over to the next year.

4. Provide health and wellness benefits, such as health insurance, subsidized gym memberships, on-site yoga/meditation classes, or wellness apps that encourage staff to take care of their mental and physical health on a daily basis.

5. Finally, lead by example. Be a positive role model by maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Get up from your desk to take frequent breaks from your laptop to take a walk or hit the gym, and encourage your staff to do the same. After all, a healthy body equals a healthy mind.

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