Walk This Way
Empathy goes a long way.
Every morning during our staff check-in, I encourage everyone to go for a walk. It’s less a reminder about physical health than it is about tending to their well-being.
It’s a small gesture but I know it’s meaningful to my team.
I do this because the mounting research that warns of the increasing risks of stress, burnout, and other debilitating issues on American workers in the age of coronavirus worries me. We are not just leading in times of crisis, we are leading in times of human uncertainty and suffering.
People are scared and tired and may be feeling like they have no outlet. So, I tell them to walk, and I share my own experiences of feeling uncomfortable and unsettled (and, of course, my latest Netflix recommendation). I try to keep it light and humorous, but I know this is no laughing matter.
Mental health experts say that mental illness is much like any other chronic illness that, if untreated, will ultimately lead to a downturn in workplace productivity. The World Health Organization’s estimation that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion annually has been widely reported. As you know, those are pre-COVID figures. On the other hand, the W.H.O. also estimates that every $1 invested into “treatment for common mental disorders” will return $4 in improved health and productivity.
The problem is, American business historically has not looked all that sympathetically on mental health. A 2019 report from Mind Share Partners revealed that 80% of workers with a mental health condition did not seek treatment due to perceived “shame and stigma,” and a 2019 Mental Health America survey of 10,000 workers found that 55% were afraid to take a mental health day because of fear of punishment.
I look at all of this as an opportunity. I believe times of crisis give us permission to change who we are and alter our style. A few months ago, we were using words like profitability, EBITDA, productivity, and innovation. Today it’s about safety, wellness, security, and stability. Your team’s mental health right now is critical to your success, and as a leader you need to honor it, factor it in, and show that you too can be vulnerable.
Leaders who can create a supportive culture of openness and respect where people are reassured in how they’re feeling will surely see bottom-line results. And the good news is, this can be accomplished largely virtually until we all begin returning to our physical workplaces. All it takes is a shift in your approach, replacing the old “command and control” mindset with a new set of essential leadership capabilities such as listening, checking in, and helping employees feel safe and secure.
Organizations are going to be different on the other side of this, and today’s leaders aren’t going to have a choice about whether or not to advocate for mental health. Leaders should readily be willing to openly address the issue and urge their employees to seek resources and support. It’s the right thing to do for your staff and it’s the right thing to do for your business.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my walk.