'Our leaders need to be the biggest, loudest, and most proud champions of this cause'
The pandemic may be on the out, with employers beginning to recall staff to the office, but that doesn’t mean that we should start neglecting mental wellbeing. Throughout the pandemic, HR leaders made a mental health a priority – but now we’re getting back to something akin to normality, does that mean the C-suite will start to lose interest in psychological health?
“More employees are talking about mental health at work than in 2019,” Jamie Savage, founder of The Leadership Agency, told HRD. “Studies show that almost two-thirds of people in a professional setting have talked about their mental health to someone at work in the past year. This is an important step in the right direction, especially in terms of reducing stigma, which affects willingness to seek treatment. We cannot rely on employees to carry this torch and only have them advocate from themselves, if we do, then we run the risk of employers forgetting about mental wellbeing.”
And we simply cannot afford that risk. Since the onset of the pandemic, employee mental health has taken a nosedive. The stress of working from home compounded by isolation and anxiety has seen depression rise – with more and more Canadian reporting poor mental health. It would be remiss of leaders to think that once we all return to the office everything is back to ‘business as usual’.
“Employees and need and want sustainable and mentally healthy workplaces,” added Savage. “This requires an overhaul of your company culture, a true evaluation of what budgets are allocated, and ensuring that the real work is being done and invested in. It’s not enough to offer office snacks, access to fitness apps or started including euphemisms like ‘wellbeing’ or ‘mental fitness’. Employers, CEOs, and material impact leaders must do the damn work, as they say! They need to be biggest, loudest, and most proud champions of this change. Leading by example is the only way. As Lizzo’s lyrics state - it’s about damn time.”
At The Leadership Agency, Savage has been allowing their employees to have time, flexibility, and a safe environment backed up with resources to address their wellbeing. They’re not forcing a one size fits all program or approach but are instead empowering employees to invest in their wellbeing.
“We were the leaders in launching the four-day work week in 2020,” she told HRD. “Our employees have the same pay, same vacation time, and don’t work additional hours and work Monday to Thursday now. We’ve also launched three paid leave policies: a three-week paid bereavement leave, Universal Days, not sick days – removing the stigma of health and mental health time off, and parental top up program.”
As a CEO Savage committed to an entire year of therapy every Friday. It’s this sort of leading by example, showing vulnerability, that gives employees permission to do the same. By prioritizing your own mental health, by practicing some self-care, you show your people that it really is okay not to be okay – and that talking about mental health is something we should do freely.