Minisode: Prioritizing Mental Health at Work with Jenn DeWall

Prioritizing Mental Health at Work

Full Transcript Below:

Hi everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall. And on this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast, we are talking about how you can prioritize mental health at work for yourself and others in this coming new year. There is no better time than now where people are very much needing support in managing to overcome mental health challenges. And it means that no longer are you, as a leader, able to not address this, as people are likely bringing this into their workplace, and you may also be experiencing symptoms or health challenges yourself. But here’s the thing that I want you to know. You are not alone. According to the World Health Organization, mental health conditions and substance abuse have increased 13%. Over the last few years, we know that the pandemic has taken a huge toll on mental health. And in 2019, almost 60% of full-time U.S. Workers reported experiencing at least one symptom of mental health, at least one. And that’s up from 75% in the last year. So mental health challenges are continuing to grow.

What’s interesting is that mental health symptoms are equally prevalent across all seniority levels. So it doesn’t matter what your role is in your organization. You may be experiencing mental health challenges. It’s not something that’s just reserved for people that we perceive as having the more high-stress job. It can truly impact everyone. And here’s why you need to care. In 2020, mental health support went from a “nice to have” to a true business imperative, meaning it’s something that you want to offer and create space for it for yourself and your employees.

Why is Mental Health at Work Important?

So why do we need to care and talk about mental health at work? Why do we need to? Well, not only did we just talk about the increases over the past few years in the need or people experiencing mental health issues but why do we need to care about it? Because mental health impacts everyone! Every single person in your workplace. And here’s a tip that I want you to think about. I want you to think about this, to practice your own empathy and compassion, a picture that every single person that you come into contact with is, you know, inside and outside at work is carrying what we would look at as an invisible suitcase. It’s something that you can’t see, and that invisible suitcase is going to impact how we show up, how we respond, how we make decisions, solve problems. And it’s something that if we don’t ask our employees or even ask ourselves, we not be aware of the impact of an invisible suitcase. So the content- think about this each and every one of us- when you’re going to meet someone for the first time, you can picture that they have their own invisible suitcase of stuff that you cannot see.

You may not be able to see their values, any underlying health conditions, a disability, the trauma and pain that they’ve experienced, or any other type of past experience. Maybe it could be past experiences with prior employers. The invisible suitcase also contains experiences from our upbringing, from the culture and which we were raised. Our worries about the future, our worries about the present, our hopes, dreams, and fears. And this invisible suitcase, if you don’t pay attention to it, you may miss indicators or points of connection to be able to support someone with mental health challenges.

What Impacts Mental Health at Work?

But let’s talk about the things that exist today within the workplace that people are experiencing. What can impact mental health? Well, first, we know burnout and stress, and as much as I wish that burnout and stress may have been resolved with people taking some time off over the holidays, it seems to be creeping back up in 2022. So we want to be mindful of burnout and stress for our teams and employees that may be asked to do more with less. Or other things that can impact mental health are our feeling of psychological safety. Do I feel safe at work? There are global events, the social climate, our health and lifestyle, grief and death, racism, bullying, discrimination, our families and friends, conflict, our economic circumstances, and even the economy. There are so many things that impact our mental health that it’s hard to argue that people do not or cannot have mental health challenges.

Mental health can impact every single person, but let’s talk specifically about work. The work-related risk factors that can contribute to mental health challenges are inadequate health and safety policies. Maybe you’re not doing things that are in the best interest of that employee’s health, or maybe it’s poor communication and management practices. Maybe there’s a lot of change or ambiguity, and people feel that there’s too much uncertainty. So it’s creating stress or limited participation and decision making people feel like they don’t have a choice or a say in what their work looks like. Remember, people want that autonomy. They want to feel valued. They want to have that ownership, but when they don’t have that participation or the opportunity to contribute, it can trigger mental health consequences. In addition, other work-related risk factors can be, maybe you have inflexible working hours. You can’t accommodate someone’s personal needs. Maybe they have to take an appointment or something like that. So we want to be mindful about creating flexibility and, of course, a low level of support. When we are in a place where we feel like we’re going into the office or a workplace, and we don’t have a leader or a support system there, it can make us feel isolated and alone.

Is Mental Health a Concern at Your Workplace?

And so the question that I want you to ask yourself is, is mental health a problem at your workplace? Here’s how you might be able to identify it because it impacts our relationships. If I’m not feeling the greatest if I am feeling more anxious or depressed, or the variety of different mental health symptoms, I may not be showing up at my best. I may not be listening to people. So it’s going to be impacting the relationships that I have with my team. Of course, it’s going to impact my stress and physical health, my ability to make decisions, how I resolve conflict when I’m not feeling like my best self, I’m not showing up into a conflict conversation with curiosity. I may be showing up to it within indifference. And so, we want to be mindful of that. And mental health will also impact your workplace turnover and engagement, people’s ability to be creative, and their overall resilience.

And here’s a news flash for you. If we’re talking about managing our mental health in 2022, one of the myths that I want you to let go of is that resilience is all about toughing it out. As a matter of fact, it’s the opposite. Resilience is not toughing it out. It’s asking for help. It’s taking care of yourself. It’s not just pretending it’s not an issue and swallowing it down. Mental health— to truly manage it means addressing it.

Myths About Mental Health at Work

We have to have a certain level of self-awareness, but let’s talk about the other mental health myths that exist. Oh, maybe there’s the myth in your workplace that mental health conditions are uncommon. If you were listening to the earlier part of this, it is extremely common! Or maybe you were raised with that perspective of what I would call traditional leadership that mental health should be dealt with outside of the workplace. It has nothing to do with work. Well, let’s be honest. Think about how many times you maybe have disrupted sleep because you were worried about something that happened at work. Mental health is something that happens in the workplace and outside of the workplace, and it has to be addressed.

Some other mental health myths, mental health defines you in your career. No, it doesn’t. And if it does, maybe that’s an indication that you’re in the wrong environment. Mental health does not define you. Because you may have mental health challenges, it does not mean you are less-than. It does not mean that you are not as valuable. You are an individual that is in need of help, and give yourself some grace. Another mental health myth is that mental health conditions are permanent. These are things that we can work through. Granted, you have to take that opportunity to ask for help.

And the last few mental health myths are that mental health problems are a sign of weakness. No! Mental health, your challenges, how you overcome them, demonstrate your strength. Do not ever let anyone tell you that your mental health, or challenges with it, make you less-than as a human being. And also, the last myth about mental health that I think is important to talk about is that only other people need therapists or someone to talk to. From my perspective, as a coach, every single individual needs either a coach or a therapist, someone that can help them get outside of their head. So we don’t bottle up our problems, our pains, our worries, and then allow them to further impact us. We need to talk about it. You deserve to talk about it. And here’s my PSA to maybe people that have felt like they didn’t have a voice.

And I’ll talk about one stereotype, which is that men shouldn’t have emotions. If you are listening to this, you have emotions. I don’t care what your gender is. I don’t care what your background is. You deserve to be able to talk about them.

A Leader’s Role in Managing Mental Health at Work

Now let’s quickly talk about what your role is as a leader in managing mental health at work. The tip is that you want to see the whole person just as we talked about with that invisible suitcase, everyone has it. There are many things that you’re not seeing. You only see the things that are at the surface level. Things like their success or what they post on social media, the title, their background, their physical appearance, how they might be showing up. But what you might be missing is their hard work failure, discipline, disappointment that they’ve had, or rejections, maybe they’ve applied for a job within your workplace, and they didn’t get it. And it’s going to impact their ability to feel valued. Or what you don’t see is their perseverance, how they have to overcome certain challenges or problems in their lives to be able to show up and be the best that they can be. You also don’t see that that person’s self-doubt, that language, how they’re communicating to themselves, either supporting or not. You also don’t see courage, dreams and goals—life outside of work. Your role as a leader is to dig beneath the surface, to make sure that you understand that person as an individual, not just those things that are very easy to see, such as what they post on social media or how they might appear at work.

Be Mindful of Triggers

And your job as a leader is also to be mindful of the triggers that can take place with mental health for different people. It could be holidays. It could be that toxic work environment or feeling included in the scene, which comes down to psychological safety. What you also may not realize is that blame- blaming someone- “oh, you did this” can also trigger mental health judgment, chronic busyness, organizational changes. These can all trigger mental health impacts, but before you focus on anyone else, I want you to focus on that whole person, but you have to start with focusing on yourself.

Ask for Help

So how do you support your own mental health? First and foremost, you have to talk about it. Don’t pretend that by bearing it down, it’s going to somehow resolve itself. No, it’s going to fester beneath the surface, and it’s going to impact how you show up! Another way that you can support your own mental health is by finding a coach or a therapist. It, someone that is there, that is their role is just to listen to you and to help you in that circumstance.

Practice Healthy Habits

Also, pay attention to your lifestyle. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you maybe relying on substances too much? How are you eating? We want to be mindful of our lifestyle because it will feed how we show up. And the last few are to practice boundaries, making sure that you’re not just saying yes to everything! Make sure that you’re protecting yourself and your time. That you’re giving yourself permission to do the things outside of work that fuels you, that make you happy. Maybe it’s spending with your children. Maybe it’s pursuing a hobby, but you need to set boundaries to protect your time and yourself. And the last piece, most importantly, how to support your own mental health, is to practice self-love. You have got to love yourself.

Bring Love to Work

Now again, I know that we don’t talk about love so much at work, but self-love. When we love ourselves and value ourselves, it can make a huge impact on how we show up with our team. We may be a lot kinder. We may have more empathy and compassion. We might be able to see that other person in a different way. And also, we have more confidence that even in the face of adversity, we can persevere. So other tips on how to prioritize your health- let go of perfection and redefine what success looks like for you. You may have had a past definition of success that said in order to be successful, and you have to do everything perfectly. Well, now might be the time to rewrite that definition of success. If everything needs to be perfect, that triggers to me that I have to work nonstop and that I’m never good enough, which is only going to trigger impacts on my mental health. But if I redefine success, as my definition is that every single day, I am learning and growing. That gives me permission to make mistakes. That gives me permission to ask for help. So make sure that you’re redefining success.

Also, embrace who you are when you embrace who you are, and you practice self-love. You see your values, strengths, blind spots, limitations. You can extend that same grace for others. You can see the value that they bring, and you can also help them overcome their own challenges and blind spots. Another way to prioritize your mental health is to stop comparing. Many of you may know the expression “comparison is the thief of joy.” When we compare ourselves to other people, then we’re telling ourselves in some way, we’re getting life wrong. Our life is awful, and that’s only going to perpetuate challenges to our mental health.

Accept Limitations

And another tip about how to prioritize your mental health at work is to accept that not all work will get done. There is likely not enough time of day to be able to account for maybe those “got a minutes” or the last-minute fire drills. So accept that. Not all your work will get done in one day. And don’t put that pressure on yourself to have everything buttoned up. It’s just simply not a reality in the modern-day workplace. Do your best, which brings me to the final point on how to prioritize your mental health. Give yourself some grace. You are perfectly imperfect. You are a human being. You deserve to give yourself kindness. You deserve to give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them. Give yourself some grace. And another tip, which we should all be doing, is to take that social media break. When we go to social media, it can trigger feelings of inadequacy, not enough-ness. Oh my goodness. I’m failing at life. And also, if you’re a parent and you’re constantly on social media, it demonstrates to our children who already have challenges with using their phones, that they too need to stay on social media. So be the example, demonstrate to your family, to your colleagues, that we don’t need to be connected to our phones at all times.

Tips for Supporting Mental Health at Work

Now, in conclusion, I want to share just a few tips on how to support mental health at work. Number one is to make mental health a priority. Mental health is a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional wellbeing. You want to acknowledge it and know what it is and understand that mental health looks different for everyone. The facets of mental health affecting people could be anxiety and depression, grief, change, stress, racism, bullying, discrimination, culture, workload, values, conflict. These are all facets of mental health, so it’s going to look different for every single individual.

We all have different triggers, but if you’re trying to observe whether or not someone on your team might be impacted or going through a mental health challenge, potential signs could be: a loss of interest in engaging in activities previously enjoyed; social withdrawal or not connecting or initiating conversation in the way that we once were; difficulty concentrating; changes in sleeping and eating; extremely high and low moods; and of course, overwhelm and worry. These are signs that we can notice in others, and we can also pay attention and reflect and think, do I have any of these signs?

Walk the Walk

So tips to make mental health a priority at work. Walk the walk- make sure you’re talking about it and that you’re prioritizing your own mental health. That way, you can remove the stigma around mental health and make sure that you get outside, encourage walking meetings and also, shorten your meetings! Give people an opportunity, especially if they’re still in a remote environment, to take care of things throughout the day, or have five minutes less of a meeting so they can let their dog out or maybe grab a snack.

And of course, tips to make mental health a priority, establish norms, set the expectation that it’s something that you want to see on your team. And, of course, create training and development around it. Make sure that people understand that mental health is something serious and it’s something that you want them to address. Give them the tools that they need. And, of course, practice empathy and compassion. So, what’s the difference? Let’s talk about the difference. I know a lot of people may get confused with the difference between empathy and compassion, but I’m going to talk about it from the perspective of pity, sympathy, empathy.

  • Pity is Hey, I see someone, and I acknowledge that you’re suffering. Oh, that stinks.
  • Sympathy is I care about your suffering.
  • Empathy is I feel your suffering.
  • And compassion is I want to relieve your suffering.

Your goal as a leader is to practice more compassion and empathy. To understand and see things from another person’s perspective.

Communicate Mindfully

Tip two, to help manage mental health at work, is to be a mindful communicator. That means to think before you speak, be open and transparent, reduce ambiguity. People do not thrive in ambiguity. To reduce that when possible. And of course, be an active listener and set clear expectations, be inclusive and pay attention to self-talk.

When someone is Sharing, Remember to W.A.I.T.

One quick tip. If you are trying to listen to someone as they’re sharing it, I want you to consider this acronym, which is common. It’s WAIT. Why Am I Talking? Ask yourself that when someone is sharing or confiding, be an active listener and ask yourself to WAIT, ask yourself, why am I talking? This will give you permission to recognize that you are there to listen, not to provide your own guidance, opinion or feedback.

Embrace Flexibility

So number three, if we wanna support someone’s mental health, we have to embrace flexibility, which means that we have to be open to new ways of thinking. Assume positive intent. If someone is asking for maybe a late start in the day because they have a doctor’s appointment, assume that they’re telling you the truth and that they wouldn’t be asking for this accommodation if they didn’t need it. So, of course, be curious and trust. And here are some quick tips to keep an open mind, get out of your comfort zone, practice, doing things that make you uncomfortable or scare you. Ask questions open-ended questions, avoid assumptions, and stay calm and curious.

Be Inclusive

The fourth tip to make mental health a priority at work is to practice mindful community in using inclusive language. I see you. I feel you or even reflecting is what I’m about to say, going to be productive. And if not, is it worth saying and understanding the role that bias plays on how we see things and always try to create psychological safety for our team members. We need to feel safe at work. When we feel safe, we have the freedom to feel like we can make a mistake without repercussion. Or things aren’t going to be held over our head, or we’re not gonna be yelled at when we can create psychological safety. That is one area that we can soften the impact of mental health that can provide clarity for people to do their job and be mindful of creating opportunities for everyone in your workplace, regardless of your circumstance, think about the unique people that might be caretakers or parents right now in this virtual/hybrid world. What additional support do you need to provide for them so they can be their best self?

Check-in Frequently

Now the final tip for focusing on mental health at work is to make sure that you’re always checking in frequently, that you’re building in water cooler talk. If we want to see the whole person, that means we have to have time to see the whole person. So you need to get to know your people as people.

Make 2022 the Year of Mental Health

Now, I hope you enjoyed this podcast today. And I hope the takeaway is that this is your year! Your year to focus on your own mental health. Mental health will determine every single thing that you do or do not do. How you respond to things, and the type of leader that you can be. So I hope that you task yourself to make mental health a priority in 2022. It’s a serious subject. And it’s something that we want to address. And by the way, if you address your mental health, think about the door that you can open for other people to take hold and control and help and manage theirs! Until next time!