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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

How leaders can encourage mental health in the workplace

I believe having a mentally healthy workforce starts with company culture, and that starts from the top, with its leaders. So my question is: How are you helping your employees be the best versions of themselves?

How leaders can encourage mental health in the workplace
[Dragana Gordic/AdobeStock]

As leaders, we should encourage our employees to seek that often-discussed work-life balance and to ensure that our staff is in a good place mentally.

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According to research published by NAMI, one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, but less than half receive treatment. Thought leaders around the world are acknowledging this mental health crisis and responding with a renaissance of safe-space opportunities to support employees through challenges. Leaders are evolving their definition of “time” and “space” needed for success.

As the founder and CEO of Zen Media, I am cognizant of the mental health of my employees. In addition to Zen being 100% remote, I offer my employees the flexibility to let go of the burdensome routines that increase the risk of employee burnout. Schedules are flexible, and our company offers not only unlimited PTO but unlimited sick time as well. We offer benefits to seek mental health help if needed, but in addition to that, we offer what’s often most needed in the workplace: a strong company culture.

My employees are happy, hungry, helpful, high-performing, and have heart—and it shows. They are passionate not just about what they do, but about making a difference. We offer charity matching at Zen, and often hold charity drives where we donate our time, money, or sometimes both to help those less fortunate. And despite being fully remote, we have regular digital company meetups, offer weekly kudos shoutouts to one another over Slack, and we just plain enjoy working with each other. I think our company culture is epic, but I may be a little biased in saying so.

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Leaders are evolving their definition of time and space needed for success. As a mom myself, I am serious about my team maintaining a work-life balance. After all, I believe transition time—the time employees mentally need to switch roles and gears—will be the next thing to follow the Great Resignation and the rise of WFH. To go from leader to mom or from caregiver to remote worker can’t simply be treated as flipping a switch. As more of our identities merge within the home and remote work makes us less reliant on commuting, new ways of transitioning our time will need to emerge.

I believe it’s only a matter of time until we say goodbye to the traditional 9-5. The “when” will be redefined as much as the “where.” A typical 9-to-5 schedule already has more than half of us working against our best selves, especially when you consider that for more than 50% of adults, biological bedtime falls after midnight. Job candidates are already asking more questions about schedule flexibility, working from home, and work-life balance, and it will be up to businesses to accommodate those requests or offer other valuable benefits if they want to win in the hiring game.

Staffing agencies like Curate Partners are trying to balance these candidate requests with businesses’ needs through people-first approaches and focusing on driving innovation. Curate Partners solves businesses’ challenges not just by providing highly qualified staff, but also by assessing and helping companies deploy better infrastructure, leveraging customer-driven insights, and investing in digital innovation. They look for what they lovingly call “purple squirrels”—job candidates with just the right mix of experience, training, skills, and passion to succeed in today’s dynamic environment—and staff them alongside digital transformation tools and processes.

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But in order to get employees—current and future—into that headspace of passion and well-being, I believe leaders have to help them reach their best selves. To do that, provide the necessary resources. Access to health insurance and adequate pay are key, of course, but beyond that, I believe it is important to empower staff to recognize their own stress levels, so they know when it’s time to step away from their laptops.

With the rise in mental health diagnoses that occurred during the pandemic, it’s no surprise that mental health-focused apps like Calm and Headspace are becoming more popular. These mindfulness apps are useful tools that can help all of us avoid stress and burnout. A newer app that similarly hopes to help prevent burnout, but from a different angle, is Behavidence. This app takes advantage of modern consumer technology to accurately diagnose mental health flares. In a nutshell, it’s an app that uses passive digital biomarkers to track users’ day-to-day activity through their phones. The more data it collects, the more it can determine a baseline and identify trends that may indicate mental health decline.

Mental health monitoring apps, mindfulness apps, digital transformation-enabled employees, and staffing agency support are all great, but honestly, that’s only the beginning. I believe having a mentally healthy workforce starts with company culture, and that starts from the top, with its leaders. So my question is: How are you helping your employees be the best versions of themselves?

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Shama is the CEO of Zen Media, a B2B PR and marketing firm for technology-driven B2B brands, a best-selling author, & a keynote speaker.  

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