The ongoing turmoil of 2020 has made workplaces realize how much mental health matters and incited leadership at all levels to help drive this change with an eye toward diversity, equity and inclusion. Leaders shared their insights at the Make A Difference Summit US in association with Mind Share Partners last month. Here are three ways to champion workplace mental health.
1. Make Mental Health Part Of Company-Wide Leadership
Some companies were already well-positioned going into 2020 from a mental health perspective—in large part due to their senior leadership. Mike Malloy, chief amazement officer of Rocket Mortgage, talked about its longstanding approach, sharing that “It’s about making sure that leaders are trained to identify and think about this as part of their leadership role.”
A CEO’s role includes being the organization’s culture setter. Guru Gowrappan, CEO of Verizon Media, encourages leaders to “recognize that actions speak louder than words and that transparency is critical.” He stated that “Culturally, we’ve taken a proactive approach and we’ve held discussions weekly—if not daily—during the pandemic.” Malloy added, “People have to feel they can be their whole selves. We’re holding ourselves accountable by setting and communicating OKRs and not just letting this be a press release.”
Gowrappan also highlighted how having a “headstart” to supporting mental health prior to the pandemic set up companies like Verizon Media and Rocket Mortgage to “respond versus react.” However, an important message for all organizations to know is that it’s never too late to start. Gowrappan encouraged, “It’s not too late. You just have to have the intention to not do things by ‘checking the box,’ but really lead by example and put action behind a plan.”
2. Embed Mental Health Into Diversity, Equity And Inclusion Strategies And Vice Versa
In the midst of political divisiveness, it’s critical for organizations to create a culture where employees can bring their whole selves—including all the components of their identities—to work. “Psychological safety is something that takes work and maintaining it also takes work,” shared Robert Gill, human resources business partner at Square. “I’m a white male that identifies as queer and I’m really comfortable with that identity. I find it much more difficult to come out at work around my mental health. If someone like me who’s in a place of privilege and works in HR still has fear around disclosing, you can imagine how folks in other communities might be feeling,” Gill shared.
So how can leaders address the intersectionality between mental health and DEI? Rachel Parrott, diversity and inclusion manager at New Relic shared, “We’ve created an allyship program where intersectionality is the biggest part of what we teach. We’ve now elevated this to a mandatory training for new managers.”
When it comes to supporting BIPOC employees during this time, Kevin Dedner, CEO of Hurdle, emphasized responsibility. “This is a responsibility that we all share collectively. The first thing is to acknowledge a need for cultural competency and allow people from marginalized groups to be heard.” Pauline Miller, head of talent and development at Lloyd’s of London, added that “Employers need to understand their role in the structural racism that exists in their organizations by looking at their data and learn what they need to change to break down those structural barriers.”
3. Foster Safety Through Employee-Led Mental Health Initiatives
In 2019, employees reported that they were the least likely to trust senior leaders and HR when it came to opening up about mental health. Employee-led initiatives provide a greater sense of safety to start this conversation. Mental health employee resource groups (ERGs) continue to grow in popularity and have become a vital mental health resource within organizations.
Jen Porter, COO and principal at Mind Share Partners highlighted that “Peer listening is a concept we’ve seen grow increasingly, whether it’s part of an ERG or its own program.” Hyung-Do (HD) Kim, head of field medical strategy and business operations for US medical affairs at Roche Genentech, is one of 150 mental health champions at the company. “Champions are trained mental health advocates and offer themselves up as a hopefully somewhat familiar point of contact within the community as a knowledgeable peer on the topic,” he shared.
Getting executive buy-in is critical for the success of employee-led initiatives. Kate Busby, senior marketing manager at Best Buy and a leader of its disABILITIES ERG, shared that “We are fortunate that our Inclusion and Diversity team is actually the overarching team that runs all of our ERGS.” She said that its chief communications officer is an advocate for the group—advising it and helping it to overcome roadblocks. “Ultimately, without the advocates and leadership team, nothing will get done,” she said.
If you’re starting from scratch, Kim suggests, “Be patient with internal teams (like HR, DEI, etc) and get to know them and find the people that are interested and can become an advocate.” Meredith Arthur, content lead at Pinterest and a founder of its PinAble mental health ERG said that she “built trust [with company leaders] by working on something together.”
“The way that we were working before the pandemic was unhealthy. It was not good for us. So it’s a great time for us to recalibrate,” Dedner shared. Simon Berger, co-founder at Make A Difference Summits added, “Every employer on the planet wants to be more successful after Covid-19; when you care about the mental and physical health of your people, you care about your business.”
Now is the time for all leaders—from the C-suite to those leading employee resource groups—to lead with empathy, to build trust and to open the door for others to do the same.
Note: New Relic, Roche Genentech, and Verizon Media are clients of the author’s organization, Mind Share Partners, and Robert Gill is an advisor.
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