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Mental Health at Work: Build Workforce Resilience, Prevent Suicide, and Foster Mental Fitness

By April 7, 2021 No Comments
Snowfly Mental Wellness Programs

I recently read an article sponsored by the Salt Lake Chamber titled 6 ways Utah employers can build workforce resilience, prevent suicide and foster mental fitness.

From a human perspective, this is remarkably sad. That we talk about it is equally important. In the first two paragraphs we read “19% of adults experienced a mental illness in 2017-2018.” I’m not sure what “experienced a mental illness” means, but I know that mental illness is profoundly complex, and 19% feels low. I like that it’s become okay, or at least better, to talk about mental illness more than before. We also learn that “depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.” Wait… that is so profound I’m going to put it here (source, with more info):

Depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

That the global economy loses $1 trillion is mind boggling. I just can’t comprehend it. I don’t know what that means. Would we create more widgets, service more customers, sell more gadgets, if we had less anxiety and depression? Perhaps. Probably. But aside from this massive cost of mental illness, resulting in lost productivity, there are names and faces, even families and loved ones, behind those numbers.

It is our job, as managers and leaders, to impact individuals.

Yes, we have fiscal responsibilities. We have responsibilities to our shareholders. But we must be good stewards of people we are able to work with, serve, and provide opportunities to. We can’t fix mental illness, and we can’t assume all of the problems that our employees have are our fault, nor are they completely our responsibility. But from one human to another, if we can help, we should.

In the article it says “for every $1 invested in employee mental health, there’s a $4 return in improved health and productivity.” That is a 400% return. That is a super investment. And because we are talking about human lives, and very serious repercussions, that is an investment we must make.

In the article there are six suggested steps to help your employees’ mental health. They are:

  1. Create a positive mental fitness culture,
  2. Promote peer support,
  3. Train for the difficult conversations,
  4. Incentivize engagement,
  5. Provide mental health and substance abuse checkup tools, and
  6. Promote mental health crisis resources.

Each of these are, of course, good ideas. Let’s dig into each of them.

Mental health or mental fitness?

In the article it talks about changing language from mental health to mental fitness, at least as you talk about it at work. Creating a culture of mental fitness changes the stigma of wrong, bad, and broken to perhaps something that can be strengthened and made healthier. I like that. Mental health, mental wellness, mental fitness… words matter and stigmas are real.

Over the years we have had clients who have had smoking cessation, weight loss, and “miles walked” challenges and programs. Of course, Snowfly’s gamification and engagement platform makes those systems work well. But real mental wellness, or mental fitness, isn’t just about walking a bit more or smoking less. Of course, every step is important. But the key to this first point is to create the right culture.

Culture is created and reinforced when leadership says the right words, and provides tools. It’s not a one-time announcement. It happens when leaders are encouraged to lead by example, be empathetic, and allow the right conversations around wellness to happen in a safe way. In the article it says “more than 86% of survey respondents wanted a company culture that supported mental health, while less than half felt that mental health was actually prioritized at their companies.” Less than 50%? We can do a much better job at shaping our cultures to improve that number.

Creating culture can either be fluffy buzzwords, or it can be something that significantly impacts lives (while impacting employee satisfaction and performance). Seriously, get serious about culture.

We’d love to talk about your culture with you. Contact us here.

Promote Peer (and Manager) Support

This can be a little tricky because, well, privacy is an issue. We need to make sure we respect one another’s privacy. However, I know people who want to talk about what they are dealing with, and how they deal with it, and what help they need. This can feel uncomfortable, for someone to be so open, but it can also be very empowering. Some of this stuff can be well hidden while other issues are out in the open, even if no one is talking about it.

Let’s create a safe environment where, if the topic comes up, with permission from the people impacted, let’s talk about it respectfully. The truth is, we all have issues. We all have shortcomings, and we all have strengths. One of the most important things we can do, whether we have a leadership title or not, is to make sure any quick judgements and derogatory language are out of bounds. Squash any such communication before it becomes apparent that sharing the sensitive things are not okay. This can be done quickly and without making anyone feel bad.

One of the most important ways to promote peer (and manager) support for conversations around anxiety, depression, and other issues is to build trust in your teams. When people trust one another they’ll feel more open to sharing. There are many ways to create trust. There are team trust exercises and activities. The most important things you can do as a leader is to keep your word, be as open as appropriate with your team, and make sure you speak well of others. As you model these things, your team will trust you, and emulate.

Train for difficult conversations

I love this topic so much I created a course on it called How to Have Difficult Conversations. I think it is important to have difficult conversations at work. They should happen, and we shouldn’t hide from them. But they should be constructive, working towards truth and better answers, and better behaviors.

I think it’s absolutely critical to understand, though, that unless you are a trained therapist, even licensed and with the right specialties, you are not a suicide or crisis counselor. Friend? Yes. Trusted colleague? Yes. Create the right environment so people in distress know they can trust and count on a kind, listening ear. But do not cross over into counselor or therapist mode. Counselors and therapists are trained to have special difficult conversations in a constructive, proper way.

Leadership should definitely be trained to LISTEN, and be able to read into unsaid messages. And then they should know how to react and help the person best they can. This might mean a talk with HR, or tap into other resources. It might mean letting the person take the day off, or other things. The key is to be aware of issues, and act with concern and respect.

Incentivize engagement

This should have read: Use Snowfly!!! We’ve found that one of the problems with most incentives or engagement programs is that they get stale quick. They are typically designed to be flashy… but flashy can mean flash in the pan. When the flash burns out there’s nothing left. At Snowfly we’ve been working for decades to increase engagement in all kinds of programs, from wellness to performance.

We use principles of psychology to impact behavior. This means we have tricks up our sleeve that increase engagement. This is a big reason why we have customers who have been with us for so long: their engagement programs work. Or said differently, their employees are engaged in these programs!

This could mean you tie financial incentives to accomplishments, but it doesn’t have to mean that. Incentives can be employee recognition and/or peer recognition. In some studies, recognition proved to be more important (and incentivizing) than financial rewards. Don’t get me wrong: if I get a yacht as an incentive, I’ll take it, but there really is power in intrinsic (non-financial) reward systems.

Again, this is what we talk about all day long. We’d love to talk to YOU about your incentives and/or engagement programs, or why your programs are not getting the engagement you want. Contact us here.

Provide mental health and substance abuse checkup tools

Make sure you do this appropriately and tactfully. Don’t allow negative talk around the introduction of these tools. You never know who needs them, or who has family that needs them, and allowing negative talk can get in the way of these getting to the people who need them.

There are many resources you can tap into. Talk to leaders in other businesses that you network with to see what they are offering. Talk to local clinics or hospitals, or people in your local SHRM chapter to see what they recommend. We need to normalize talking about these serious issues. More, we need to help people get the right help, even tools, to help them. As we do this we reduce negative stigmas to something that should never have been stigmatized.

Promote mental health crisis resources

In the main article there’s a link to the Salt Lake Chamber website for workforce resilience through mental fitness page.

I think the most important word to focus on, different than what we’ve talked about above, is crisis. When someone is in crisis they need help. They need a lifeline, a life preserver. They need kindness. And they need qualified help.

Crisis is beyond “I don’t feel good” (although it could sound like that).

Look, we want a more productive workforce that is happier. There are business reasons to do this stuff.

But I’ll go back to my premise above: we do this because it is the right thing to do. Because we are human, and we care about life, we help others.

Snowfly can provide some solutions to help. Your leadership must create and model the right culture. When you do this you can create one of the most amazing workplaces that people would love to join, and want to stay in. This is win-win-win.

Want to talk about what we are doing to help organizations with their wellness culture, incentives, engagement programs, etc.?

Contact Us

Jason Alba

Jason Alba

I'm passionate about building great cultures. I love respect in the workforce, especially respect that is earned. I love strategic management, leadership, and vision. I love healthy companies through profitability. I love employee engagement, employee performance, and employee satisfaction. I love how Snowfly can help YOUR organization work towards all of these things.

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