Empowering business leaders to create compassionate, high-performing workplaces

Empowering business leaders to create compassionate, high-performing workplaces

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As many of us return to the office we have an opportunity to put into practice better ways of addressing mental health, writes PubMatic’s chief revenue officer

Good mental health is the number one driver of cognitive performance which is vital for all of us to perform in our jobs. If we are feeling anxious, our ability to read and digest a document or analyse a spreadsheet will be impaired. As business leaders we need to acknowledge that we are not mental health experts but we are called upon to make decisions that may directly impact our employees’ mental health. This means it is vital that we consult with, and learn from, experts and those who have suffered from mental ill-health so that we can best help ourselves and others.

What does addressing mental health in the workplace look like?

Mental health, defined by the World Health Organization, is “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

The first step to creating a workplace that values and fosters good mental health is to make it a strategic goal, rather than a tick-box exercise, that is given the same priority as delivering revenue.

To achieve this goal, we need start by examining and understanding the factors in the workplace that impact overall well-being, both positively and negatively such as: over focusing on process, the hours we work, the resources we make available to learn about mental health and ill-health, leadership styles, and communication.

Once we have an understanding of what is negatively impacting our employees’ mental health we can set about making changes. The changeswe make will depend on the unique nature of the organisation but there are three overarching principles that all businesses can adopt.

  1. Make compassion a non-negotiable behaviour in your business but especially in your leadership team
  2. Ensure that there is accountability for mental health at an organisational and individual level
  3. Remove the stigma associated with mental ill-health

The end goal is to ensure that everyone feels they have an equal chance to ask for help when struggling with mental health in the same way they would if they were to suffer from a physical ailment and that when they do they will receive a compassionate response.

What can we do as individuals and leaders?

Mental ill-health must always be addressed with compassion, a word that is not always associated with the workplace. As leaders we need to ensure that we bring our whole self to work, not just the part of us that “gets things done”. By understanding our own approach to mental health we put ourselves one step closer to being able to help others.

Ask yourself the question “How psychologically safe do your employees feel about having a conversation about mental health with you?” and answer the question by reflecting on your own relationship with mental health and your reactions when thinking or talking about mental health with others. Discover where you sit on a spectrum of intolerance to compassion. If you find yourself on the intolerant end of the spectrum, talk to, read about, or listen to people who have struggled with mental health to help you understand what they’ve experienced then turn that understanding into compassion.

Don’t be afraid to start conversations about mental health but ensure you do so with the same effort that you put in for other business matters. A good way to facilitate an open conversation is to share your story, this may be in one-to-ones, team meetings, or company meetings – find out what works for you, your employees, and your organisation. If you don’t have a story, there are plenty of resources available to learn about mental ill-health through those who have bravely shared their experiences.

The impact of COVID-19 and its aftermath

Over the past 12 months, our personal values as leaders have been put to the test in an unprecedented way. We have been called upon to make decisions that had a profound impact on our colleagues’ mental health such as how  we connect at a more personal level when working from home where there are no casual catch ups in the kitchen or on the stairs. As social distancing restrictions ease and we see a return to the office we have an opportunity to start to put some of the things we have discussed into practice. Here are some practical ways to do this:

  1. Pay the same duty of care to mental health as physical safety
  2. Act now, don’t wait until people are back. Set up opportunities to speak to team members  where you only talk about how people are feeling, actively listen and relay the feeling of the other person with compassion
  3. Share your own feelings, and show vulnerability. When leaders tell their stories the conversation is normalised and by doing so you give your team permission to do the same.

How to help someone when a mental health issue arises

Firstly, remember that you cannot force anyone to get the help they might need, do not feel that is your responsibility. Your responsibility is to have a supportive conversation rather than trying to say all the right things – listen without expressing judgement. Resist the urge to try to solve the problem or provide the answers. Make sure the person knows you are there to support them and you are 100% behind them. The only exception to this is if you think someone poses a significant danger to themselves or others when you will need to involve outside help such as the emergency services.

The fight against mental ill-health will be a long battle.  We have come a long way but there is still so much to be done. Giving people the chance to ask for help is something that is worth fighting for.


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