5 Tips for Company Executives to Pioneer Mental Health Practices In the Workplace

Beth Doane, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer, Main & Rose

Americans’ relentless work culture is infamous. We put in 25 percent more hours than our European counterparts and spend over a third of our waking lives working.  For Founders and C-suite executives, the numbers are even higher; we spend nearly two-thirds of our lives working (more than two-thirds if you count only weekdays).

The American dedication to work is the envy of the business world, but it comes at an extraordinary cost. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, less than half of workers feel that their organizations support employee well-being, and one in three report being chronically stressed on the job. No wonder one in five Americans report being anxious or depressed – and that was before the pandemic broke out.

COVID-19 has transformed the workplace, forever changing how and where we work. For some, working from home is a blessing; for others, it’s a nightmare that can trigger anxiety, stress and depression.  But here’s the good news: the pandemic has the potential to encourage a fundamental and positive shift in the way that employers and workplaces approach mental health. 

As an entrepreneur and founder, I’ve seen firsthand how prioritizing mental health in the workplace, like we do at Main & Rose, can transform employee well-being and company-wide productivity.  I’ve also seen that sweeping the mental health crisis in workplaces under the rug has the opposite effect. Company leaders have a responsibility to foster wellness and mental health in the workplace. We do that at Main & Rose in five ways:

1. Meditation & Mindfulness Meetings

The mental health benefits of meditation cannot be overstated. According to hundreds of neuroscience and psychology studies, mindful meditation can ease anxiety, depression, and even the perception of pain. It boosts brain function, helps with sleep and daytime functions, and promotes healing from other mental health challenges. It also has  physical benefits, including heart health and a stronger immune system. We believe that meditation is key to keeping our employees healthy and happy, so we encourage our employees to set aside time each day to practice mindfulness. I encourage other business leaders to do the same, and to get creative! Host mindfulness meetings through Zoom to discuss topics outside of work, send out a weekly schedule of virtual meditation events, and regularly check in with employees to make sure that they’re taking advantage of these events.

2. Enforce a Schedule

Routines are critical, both for keeping us accountable and productive, and for creating a sense of order. In fact, studies show that having and maintaining a routine is critical for stress management. As business leaders, we have a responsibility to create a schedule and enforce it. That means scheduling regular face-to-face check-in calls with your team.  Talking face-to-face eases the negative psychological effects of social distancing and fosters a sense of connectedness. By articulating and enforcing deadlines and encouraging employees to maintain hours similar to their pre-COVID schedule, you can help set your employees on a better path to health and set a precedent that trickles down to junior employees as well.

3. Schedule Days Off

Americans tend to feel guilty about taking vacation. Studies show that one in five workers doesn’t take time off because of guilt; and more than a third (yes, one third of employees) end the year with unused vacation. But the positive effects of a vacation are incredible. They improve employees’ mood, restore energy, lower stress, and improve productivity and work quality. During the pandemic, Americans are even less likely to use their vacation days, in part from guilt and, of course, because of travel restrictions. But endless months of distancing and working from home add up. I’ve seen (and personally experienced) how hard it can be to “turn it off” and step away from work when working remotely. The desire to be constantly available increases anxiety and stress, and reduces productivity. As employers and CEOs, we have the power to bust this cycle by creating and enforcing days off. Whether we give employees every Friday afternoon off, require workers to shut off their laptops on weekends or holidays, or even give the team a bonus day off each month, the options—and the benefits—are limitless. This year, we’ve reinstated Columbus Day as a company holiday and, for the first time ever, given our employees a day off on Election Day.

4. Make a Quarterly Plan and Be Ready to Change It

Right now, we have so little control over when and how we can be in the workplace. Instead of waiting for answers or for an end to the pandemic, provoking anxiety and reducing productivity among employees, I encourage CEOs and executive team members to take charge. Make a three-month plan and set of policies and expectations, including expected hours, availability, and vacation days, and then communicate that plan to your team.  But make clear that you’ll reevaluate the plan each quarter. Being empathetic, responsive, and communicative about expectations will support the mental health of all employees and keep your company moving forward.

5. Be a Leader

Now is not the time to be aloof. No matter how well you are personally doing during the pandemic, it is critical to focus on management. Be proactive about reaching out to your team, set a plan for greater internal communication, and lead by example with a positive attitude and commitment to your goals. A key part of addressing mental health is busting the stigma around it by clearly articulating that wellness is a company value. As company executives, founders and leaders, we have such a unique and powerful opportunity to reframe the conversation around mental health in the workplace.

In honor of National Mental Health day, I encourage each one of you reading this article, whether you are an executive team member or administrative assistant, to encourage and implement positive change in your workplace. We can create lasting change and adjust the toxic culture and excessive work expectations that have become the norm. Together, we can combat the stigma of mental health and become the catalysts that create a happier, more productive, and healthier work environment for all.

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