Adrien Gaubert, cofounder at myGwork, The LGBTQ+ Business Community.
With workplace mental health matters on the rise, I was recently alarmed to learn that employees worldwide fear revealing their mental health issues to their employers.
Research from digital mental health service provider Morneau Shepell found that mental health continues to be a taboo subject for many young professionals. In fact, it showed that around half of young people are worried it could have a negative impact on their career progression, despite increased efforts to reduce the associated stigma, especially in countries like the U.S., U.K. and Australia. The findings make sense, given that very few leaders are actually open and honest about their own mental health issues.
This specific study also revealed that young Americans, Britons 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 concerning issue, particularly for marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ+ community.
Sadly, LGBTQ+ community members are “significantly more likely to have mental health conditions and turn to alcohol and drug misuse than heterosexual people,” according to research carried out by Glasgow Caledonian University and UCL researchers. These studies highlight that a disproportionate number of LGBTQ+ people use alcohol to self-medicate for high levels of stress, anxiety and depression, generally as a result of ongoing homo/bi/transphobia experienced at work and in society at large. 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 issues resulting from discrimination or harassment, as many experts featured on our platform, myGwork, will tell you.
Leaders are also not immune from mental health issues. A survey carried out by leadership consulting firm DDI and HR analyst Josh Bersin highlighted that leaders are burning out at record rates and, as a result, are four times more likely to leave their positions. Of course, I wasn’t surprised by these findings because earlier this year, I also took a break to look after my mental health specifically.
As a leader, I have the responsibility to turn up to work every day with a positive vibe and be creative and patient, but that was becoming increasingly difficult. So I took a mental health break at a well-being 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 mental health experiences.
After posting my retreat experience, many of my LinkedIn followers described my actions as “brave” for being honest about my experience and highlighted the need for more leaders to come out and share their mental health experiences so that mental health conversations are normalized at work. Admitting to needing a break to look after my mental health is no longer seen as a weakness but 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, then more young people of all backgrounds would not fear sharing their mental health concerns with their bosses, and as a result, companies would hold on to valuable talent, which is currently in short supply.
By being empathetic to what they are going through, you can, as their manager or boss, also point them toward any company well-being benefits (if you have them) or external sources of counseling/help, such as MIND. At myGwork, for example, we offer comprehensive health insurance to all our employees, which also contributes to a gym membership to help staff look after both their mental and physical well-being, which I believe are very much linked and contribute to high performance.
Providing benefits are key to a healthy workplace and promoting mental well-being at work is a must to retain your workforce. The younger generations, especially Gen-Z, highly prioritize well-being and are not willing to give up their work-life balance to enter the rat race, as plenty of other studies show.
I also keep a close eye on my team through regular team communication and one-to-one meetings to make sure they are maintaining a work-life balance and not overworking. Having already shared my mental health struggles, they also know they can approach me with any personal/stressful issues. This empathetic leadership approach not only helps reduce staff burnout but, in the long run, also helps retain valuable staff.
To summarize, my top five tips for other leaders to promote a healthy workplace culture are:
1. Have a flexible workplace culture that promotes work-life balance. Encourage your staff to leave the office on time or switch off their laptops if they are working remotely. And don’t expect them to reply to emails out of hours unless it’s urgent.
2. Communicate regularly with your team to check in on how each individual is doing and schedule regular one-to-one meetings to review their workload often. These meetings are a great way for you to discover who might be stressed out because they are overloaded with work 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 make sure employees take their allocated annual holiday leave and not allow days to be carried over into the next year.
4. Provide health and well-being benefits, such as health insurance, subsidized gym memberships, onsite yoga/meditation classes or well-being apps that encourage staff to look after 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 regular breaks from your laptop to take a walk or go to the gym, and encourage your staff to do the same. After all, a healthy body equals a healthy mind.