Mental Health in the Workplace — Beyond the Basics — Quartz at Work

Looking after the mental health of employees has become a table stake for good employers. But once everyone agrees that mental health is important in the workplace, what’s next?

Our Feb. 17 Quartz at Work (Anywhere) workshop, sponsored by Accenture, offered a variety of perspectives from expert navigators of the intersection between work and mental health.

Whether you’re a senior executive struggling with mental health overload or empathy burnout, a manager trying to balance performance with your team’s overall mental health, or an employee dealing with the impact of trauma personal or the aggravating mental health effects of systemic racism, you will find advice and encouragement from our panelists.

Click the large image above for the full replay, and read on for highlights as well as relevant resources from Quartz and beyond to help you on your workplace mental health journey. Most of these resources are completely free, but if you encounter our paywall, please use the code QZEMAIL for a 50% discount on a full year of Quartz membership.

Avoid empathy burnout by making mental health a priority in your workplace

Melissa Bernstein, co-founder of popular toy company Melissa & Doug, says she “grew up feeling that showing something negative — anything human, anything dark — was wrong. My way of behaving was never to show a chink in my armor.That was the path I took too.

But in her late 40s, after more than two decades as CEO, she was overwhelmed by his lifelong struggles with existential depression. “I kind of broke down and had to give up and say, ‘I can’t do this on my own, this is who I am, I need help,'” she says. realized that as a leader, “I was wrong and was preventing others from really showing me who they were.” So she decided to go public with her illness by lifelines, a book on his experience, which became the basis of a website devoted to well-being.

The feeling of liberation didn’t last long, however, as thousands of people reached out to her in response, sharing their own experiences and seeking advice. “I almost sank from this emotional weight of carrying everyone’s burden and wanting to help them so desperately,” she says. “I developed immediate compassion fatigue.” Eventually, she found a balance between self-care and empathy, which sounds philosophical but involved some very practical decisions, such as cutting the number of people she would contact about mental health issues from twelve or fifteen. per day to a maximum of four. .

Further reading and resources

Thinking about mental health from a team perspective

Mental health is generally considered at the individual level, with challenges arising from each person’s unique circumstances. That’s too narrow a view when thinking about mental health in the workplace, says Leah Weiss, who teaches compassionate leadership at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and is a co-founder of Skylyte, a consulting firm focused on the health and productivity of hybrid teams.

“Because we work in shift increments, it is essential that we do this work [of evaluating and addressing mental health] as a team,” she says, “and that has been a glaring omission, I really think, for even the most team-oriented industries to date.

Polls are good for measurement, but they need to be followed by action, she says, “because if you ask people what’s going on and you don’t respond as a leader, then people get tired of polls, and they no longer believe management is going to do anything about it.

For teams balancing tight deadlines and demanding customers with a stressed workforce that always seems to run out of bandwidth, Weiss recommends remembering the cost of absenteeism and employee and work shift turnover like an Olympic athlete. “They don’t grow the same 365 days a year,” she says, noting that training is usually reduced after the big event. “Maybe we can’t afford to give [employees] vacation after every sprint, but can we bump it from 120% to 90% for a week or two? ” she says.

Structured rest and rejuvenation are key things to coordinate at a team level, she says. Taking a break “isn’t something that I, Leah, can decide to do on my own if I don’t have support around me to do it,” she says.

Further reading and resources

Rely on trained colleagues to take care

Consulting giant Accenture, which has more than 600,000 employees and a range of mental health benefitshas had particular success with a Mental Health Allies Program. Nearly 10,000 Accenture employees have volunteered for training, so they can form “a community of support” for colleagues in distress, says Tamarah Duperval-Brownlee, Accenture’s chief health officer.

“It doesn’t replace what a health care provider is able to do – a therapist or whatever – but really recognizes that as a colleague, as a colleague sitting next to you, I see you, I recognize you and wrestling,” she said. said. “With proper training, it’s definitely a powerhouse that can be employed in many organizations,” including small businesses, she adds.

Other strategies Accenture has undertaken in recent years include sharing stories and data about leaders in the organization who have faced mental health challenges, as well as helping people set limits and create new models of work. With all of this effort, says Duperval-Brownlee, “it really starts with a clear vision and intent from senior leadership.”

Further reading and resources

Recognize the impact of structural racism on mental health

The year before the start of the covid-19 pandemic, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) published a toolbox on Race and Mental Health in the Workplace, offering a guide for employers who want to promote wellbeing in their organizations.

Magda Boulabiza, ENAR’s Brussels-based advocacy officer, says tackling the role of racism in mental health requires nothing less than a transformation of organizational structures, with an overhaul of what it means to do a good job. and how to provide flexibility.

A starting point for this, she says, is to see racism as an institutional rather than an interpersonal problem. “When you think of racism as something that’s only between people and a cultural problem, you’re missing the structural solutions…and the tools you have won’t have a real, positive effect in your organization,” she said.

Some of the strategies she advises:

  • Promise (and display) zero tolerance for harassment and discrimination
  • Move from individual responsibility systems to team responsibility (this alleviates stress and competition without hurting production)
  • Facilitating access to specialist support for “those who experience racism and therefore suffer mental health consequences”
  • Encourage employees to disclose mental health issues – and don’t hold it against them – as a way to de-stigmatize the issue
  • Create or provide access to networks such as employee resource groups for people of color

Further reading and resources

Understand how trauma affects us at work

Clinical psychologist Yared Alemu is the founder of TQIntelligence, which makes software that helps detect mental health issues in at-risk children. He spoke to the audience about what happens to the brain when you’ve been through trauma. “You sip poison that has no taste and you can’t smell it, but the moment you find out you’ve been affected by it, you’re already activated by it,” he says.

Trauma, he explains, is “primarily a physiological experience before becoming emotional and psychological,” he explains. It impacts three parts of the brain “essential for proper functioning at work”, including the frontal lobe which controls executive functioning; the amygdala, which has a central role in the formation of memories; and the hippocampus, which is involved in learning as well as memory formation and retrieval.

“If these three parts of the brain…are impacted by trauma,” he says, “what appears to be a work issue is actually a mental health issue.”

Further reading and resources

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