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AIM TEAM1/6/20 11:51 AM3 min read

Four Ways Leaders Can Put Mental Health on the Workplace Agenda in the 2020s

2020 promises to be a bumpy year. The market is increasingly precarious, a U.S. election is on the horizon, and the impact of AI continues to restructure how we work and in what types of roles. Sometimes, uncertainty is a gateway to innovation and productive change. But high levels of uncertainty–economic, political, and professional–can also fuel stress and anxiety. For all these reasons, in 2020, it will be necessary for leaders to remain attentive to the impact of mental health in the workplace. 

If you don’t think leaders need to concern themselves with mental health, think again. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the annual cost of depression and anxiety in the workplace at $1 trillion per year globally. Fortunately, WHO research has also found that workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders can drastically reduce their absenteeism, increase their productivity, and benefit from other related economic gains.

In 2020, these are the top four things that leaders do to address mental health in their workplaces.

Four Ways to Tackle Mental Health in 2020

  • Lead By Example

As I like to say, when you’re traveling with a small child, you’re told to put your own oxygen mask on first. If you’re the leader of an organization, let the same rule guide your approach to mental health in the workplace. If you’re a hot mess, how will you promote health and wellness? Lead by example by taking care of your stress and anxiety first. This may be as simple as building bandwidth to be more active, eat better, and, if it’s a problem, drink less. 

  • Do a Toxicity Audit

Survey your workplace, or perhaps, bring in a neutral third party to carry out a 360 assessment. Bringing in an outside trainer or coach can often help identify toxic people and patterns of behavior that are difficult to see from the C suite. Cleaning house isn’t always an easy thing to do, but in the end, eliminating people or patterns of behavior that are toxic will reduce stress and anxiety. As a result, the long-term return on investment will be well worth the effort. 

  • Focus on Communication 

While it isn’t always a great idea to bring one’s whole self to work, creating confidential and appropriate venues where people can talk and never a bad idea. When people are grappling with stress and anxiety at work and have nowhere to bring their concerns, a small problem can quickly balloon into a much larger crisis. If it does, more than the individual in question has something to lose. Teams and projects will also be compromised.

  • Recruit Qualified Experts 

Although stress and anxiety are widespread problems in the modern workforce, few leaders are trained to deal with these issues. As a result, many leaders let their stress and anxiety fester and turn a blind eye when members of their team are struggling. To ensure that mental health isn’t an afterthought, a growing number of organizations are recruiting expertise. 

As a business psychologist, I usually work on a contract basis with organizations (often with those undergoing periods of transition). However, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, a few years ago, I was invited to join a venture capital firm in the role of People Partner. This specific VC firm recognized the need to have someone on their team with expertise on people, social relations, and navigating the stress and anxiety that invariably accompany growth in early-stage startups. While this may not be possible for all organizations, especially those operating a smaller scale, in larger organizations, there is growing reason to consider having in-house experts both on business psychology and mental health issues. 

Other Resources on Mental Health

If you’re a leader hoping to finally put mental health issues on the workplace agenda in the 2020s, everyone at AIM Leadership applauds your initiative. We’ve also compiled just a few additional resources to help you get started: