Let’s Talk about Mental Health

We are beyond motivated by the #BellLetsTalk movement. We believe it’s time to inspire leaders and organizations to make mental health a priority in 2021.

The shift that this day has inspired in terms of open and transparent dialogue about mental health is massive.  The donations that have been made towards research, hospital programs, foundations for soldiers and vets, Kids Help Phone Line, First Nations and Indigenous mental health programs, and St. John Ambulance have been monumental in funding positive change.  

This annual one-day advertising campaign donates money to mental health funds based on the number of social media and communication “interactions” that include the branded hashtag, #BellLetsTalk. 

We wanted to contribute to this day. Not just to share a story, but more importantly, to inspire leaders and organizations to make mental health a priority in 2021. This is not just an HR challenge, but a leadership and workplace culture turning point.  

My #EndTheStigma Story

Like many of you, at a mid-way point in my career I experienced my own mental health crisis.  It was several years ago, but I think my story is relevant to many today.  When I recognized I was in crisis, almost over night, I had to make the decision to walk away from a fabulous career and focus all of my attention on my wellness. 

My story is not all that uncommon, especially for those of you in the sandwich generation. Everything seemed brilliant at work. I was promoted into a C-Suite role, my team was making great strides in the business and I was working collaboratively with our global leaders.  Outside of the office, I was dealing with a parental health crisis and supporting a dear friend battling a terminal illness.  

I was working around the clock to be the perfect leader, mother, daughter, and friend. The pace was exhausting, and I simply forgot to take care of myself or ask for help. After a couple of years of working at that pace, things started to crack.  Depression and anxiety hit, but it took a long time for me to recognize or name them. When I did, it hit like a brick wall. Sadly, my leaders and colleagues were placed in an exceedingly difficult and uncomfortable position as neither they, nor I, had been coached on what to say, where to get help, or how to advocate for each other.  I walked away from a flourishing career and a company I loved.   

Fortunately, I had an amazing support network. After leaving my job I immediately focused on my wellness, developed routines, and set boundaries that have ensured my long-term mental health. I became comfortable talking about my mental health and continued lifelong friendships with former colleagues. 

Today I lead an incredible business alongside a partner I adore. We work with the most inspiring clients, and brilliant teammates.  The mental health crisis that I lived through taught me how fragile we all are. It is critical to remove the corporate façade and be our whole selves at work. We need to share when we feel exhausted and overwhelmed. We need to ensure each of us knows how to listen and offer support, not just direction. Imbalance in life catches up to each one of us, no matter how strong or successful we may appear.  

2021 Employee Wellness Must Be A Priority for Employers

One of the necessary and more positive byproducts of this pandemic has been the focus on enhanced employee wellness offerings and dialogue. We have seen improved benefits programs, access to online healthcare and therapy, mindfulness and exercise apps, and offerings of additional personal time off.  There is little question that the benefits of a mentally healthy workforce are significant.

But here is the problem we face at this very moment: the strain on work life balance has been amplified over the last year. A recent Gallup poll indicated that workers assess their own mental health at its lowest in more than 20 years.

Longer work hours, fear of illness, racial tensions brought to light, disrupted routines, virtual home schooling, isolation, financial hardships, and pandemic insomnia are taking a major toll on our workforce.  1 in 5 of your employees is likely coping with a teenaged or university aged child dealing with mental illness. The tension point is significant, widespread and, not just a moment in time, but nearly a full 12 months of crisis management. 

One of the ways companies can support mental health is to encourage employees to take advantage of personal time off, to take mental health and vacation days. However, a recent survey by Skynova of more than 1000 employees shows that this is not happening.  In fact, employees report that their time-off policies are more restricted, the pace of their days is more intense, and than 54% are afraid to take time off for fear of falling behind.  

Taking care of workplaces, our leaders, and our employees must be a top priority for all organizations in 2021.

The wake of the pandemic mental health impact is growing, and there will not be a vaccine to protect against this crisis. It is incumbent on us as a business community to face this challenge head on, perhaps with energy equal to that which was required for COVID planning. On any given week in Canada, more than half a million people miss work due to mental health problems. 

The challenge today is that most of our front-line leadership and managers are still not comfortable initiating a dialogue about mental health. They are not sure how to start, what to say, or where to turn when the conversation uncovers real issues.  

This year, it would be wise for organizations to equip all front-line supervisors with support and training on how to have individual and team conversations that are focused on wellbeing. Ensure this is a key part of overall leadership training and development. Ensure that leaders and managers are fully aware of the resources available to them and their employees, and the value and importance of bringing a weekly cadence to these conversations.  If you have a mentorship program in place, ensure all mentors are trained and equipped as well. 

Bell has a fantastic conversation toolkit. Download it as a first step. Learn more about the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and gain more insight on how to effectively cascade a wellness culture in your workplace. 

Check in with your teams to track that they are taking PTO and vacation days, that they are not working weekends to meet deadlines, and that they are fully aware of all the resources available.  Check to ensure that this is a part of the employee experience in regular pulse surveys. 

Reward leaders who demonstrate a commitment to their team wellness, not just those who meet deadlines and quotas. This recognition and reward will help your company track and measure impact to wellbeing.  Cascade this approach from the top down and know that many of your key leaders, including those in the C-Suite are not immune to mental health challenges either. 

The efforts in this area are far reaching and meaningful for the future of work. What organizations do today will impact corporate reputations, retention, workplace culture, and productivity. As our work and home lives continue to converge, the investment in workplace wellness will also have a direct impact on the next generation of talent and social economics. 

When it comes to mental health, now more than ever, every action counts.

This blog was written by our Managing Director, Stacy Parker.

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