By Mary Juetten
Often lost amidst the challenges and tasks of running a business are the considerations of the human side of things. Not the professional relationships and partnerships that help to keep our companies running; those we tend quite well, if we’re smart. No, what goes unspoken and unconsidered is how we and the people working with us or for us are holding up in the midst of the strain and stress that can accumulate over the course of weeks and months of hard, challenging work.
We don’t often think about or address mental health and well-being as a broader concern on par with budget and deadlines because it can be a difficult thing to know how to broach. It feels a bit prying to inquire how someone’s feeling beyond the salutary “How’s it going?” that we reflexively throw out on a daily basis. Truly understanding how someone is doing requires a more in-depth conversation, and a degree of honesty and candor that not everyone is comfortable with in the workplace. Some employers are content to offer time off for employees to do with as they wish, and would sooner not ask how they spend their out-of-office hours when it comes to personal matters, of which mental health feels very much a piece. And many employees aren’t exactly willing to share such issues in the workplace, given that so many of us have come of age at a time when you didn’t discuss such things publicly, and certainly not in a professional setting.
But a new day is dawning, and more companies are recognizing the importance of having a workforce that is happy and in a positive frame of mind in doing the work that is necessary. Not only does this new outlook help these companies keep their best people by avoiding the burnout or antipathy that eventually leads to resignations or departures, a more contented staff is going to turn out better work more consistently than one that is working hard to less effect under duress. It’s a more holistic approach, one that recognizes that, though they may be filling a role in your company, your employees are people, first and foremost, and given to the same frailties that are our human inheritance.
Given how much sense it makes, it’s a wonder that not every company is doing more to facilitate and encourage mental well-being among their workforce. But old ideas and stigmas persist, and there are still those who see weakness in the inability to power through every personal issue. Part of that is tied to the dated ideas that still exist about mental health, with another measure owing to our at times unhealthy attitude towards work. It’s an attitude that does no good to either the holder or those under their employ, and it is incumbent upon all of us to work to make a more positive view of mental well-being the de facto position of the business community as a whole.
Yet even those of us who hold such views can occasionally forget to practice what we preach, particularly when we’re pressed tight against a deadline or under the strain of a demanding project. We lose sight of anything but the goal, to the detriment of both ourselves and those around us. So how can we make sure that we’re checking in on those we’re responsible for to ensure that they’re maintaining their peace of mind?
A big part of any leadership role is people management, and the bulk of that is simply talking to people to understand what they’re thinking and feeling in the moment. Having an honest conversation with employees to see how they feel, to let them know that you care and to express to them that it’s OK to take time as needed to take care of themselves goes a long way in establishing the right tone and culture around mental health for your company. Too often people are afraid to take time off out of fear of displeasure on the part of the boss or their fellow employees; letting them know that you value their welfare as much as their skill and productivity does much to reduce the stigma of time off. Even small measures throughout the day can help considerably, and should be equally encouraged; a break to walk around the block or taking lunch out of the office can provide the temporary respite that alleviates accumulated stress and helps make the day more manageable.
Mental health is the most important thing that we often don’t talk about. Of all the potential barriers that we face professionally, an unhappy and demoralized workforce are the most immediate to hindering what we could accomplish. But beyond the professional, it’s also the right thing to do to make sure that we’re looking out for one another as we can, trying to help where we’re able. Our kindness and compassion is of far greater importance than any product we might offer in a world sorely lacking in both. #onwards.