This post is in honor of World Mental Health Day 2020 and to encourage greater awareness and discussion about mental health.
On average, we spend more than one-third of our lives working, and, for founders, entrepreneurs and CEOs, the hours spent working are even longer. Despite the amount of time most people spend working, overwhelmingly, many people feel like their workplace is not conducive to good mental health and wellness.
According to the American Psychological Association, less than half of workers feel that their organizations support employee well-being, with one in three employees report being chronically stressed on the job. The coronavirus pandemic—which has completely upended how, when and where we work—has only added to the pot of workplace stress and mental health struggles.
The coronavirus pandemic—which has completely upended how, when and where we work—has only added to the pot of workplace stress and mental health struggles.
As a CEO and founder, I believe that a company’s leaders have a responsibility to foster wellness and mental health in the workplace. At Main & Rose, I’ve made this a top priority. We do many unique things for our employees—including hosting mindfulness meetings, a mental health channel in Slack and biannual wellness days—and are continuing to do more each year by engaging our teams in the process.
Unfortunately, the reality is that many organizations do not sufficiently prioritize mental health in the workplace, whether due to lack of awareness, time pressures or simple negligence. This puts the burden on employees to have tough conversations about mental health with their bosses.
I believe that talking about mental health is critical for both employees and employers—as well as for the productivity of the company and industry. Here are tips on how to navigate conversations on mental health in the workplace:
Have a plan.
Even in 2020, we are all still learning how to talk about mental health. Unfortunately, too many people often see mental health struggles, such as anxiety or depression, as “feelings” or “emotions” rather than matters of health.
Combat that perception when talking to your boss by having a structured conversation about the problem that you are experiencing and potential solutions to address it. Back up your point with science, specific examples and a thorough understanding of your rights pertaining to mental health.
Figure out what you need and ask for it. It’s your right. Any good boss should know that not only is it right for you. It’s important for the company culture and productivity.
Know your rights.
One obstacle that prevents employees from talking to their bosses about mental health is the lack of awareness about their rights. Before you talk to a supervisor, make sure you know the law. Check the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to learn your basic rights.
For example, you can’t be discriminated against for having a mental health condition (that means firing you, rejecting you for a promotion or forcing you to take leave). You have workplace privacy rights. (Although if you ask for an accommodation, you may be required to provide details as to why). Reasonable accommodations such as altered work schedules and changes in supervisory methods can be granted. If your condition is severe enough that you can no longer perform your job, then you also may be eligible for paid or unpaid leave.
Bust the stigma.
Even harder than talking to your supervisor is talking to your peers, but this is also essential. Every time that someone speaks out about their mental health situation, even to say something as simple as, “This situation is not conducive to good mental health, and I am therefore taking time away from my computer to take care of myself,” makes a huge difference by normalizing these conversations. It also changes the standards and expectations around how we approach mental health.
Instead of seeing taking time off as being lazy or weak, we can begin to view it the same way we view physical health. We’d want a coworker to take time off to heal from an injury or illness. Why don’t we expect the same for mental health?
In a perfect world, conversations about mental health would be simple, straightforward and well-received. In the real world, however, that’s not always the case. Understand that most supervisors have good intentions, even if that is not necessarily reflected in the conversation.
Approach the conversation as an ongoing process and communicate with your boss that plans may need to be adjusted as the situation changes. Find a support system where you can. No one can and should be expected to do this alone.