Learning & Development

Creating a Corporate Culture That Embraces Differences – Including Mental Health

There’s nothing more tragic than an amputated spirit. There’s no prosthetic for that.

One in five U.S. adults experience a mental illness. Statistics show that, on average, only one in two receive treatment. The reality is that this is an underreported fact because many who suffer don’t know how to seek help or are reluctant to.

corporate culture mental health

As a society, we are still coming to terms with accepting that mental and emotional well-being is “a thing.” Many feel that society—and, even more so, organizations—places a stigma on mental health, and the biggest fear for employees with mental health issues is that they will be asked to leave or, at the very minimum, be sidelined.

The state of mental health should not be limited to an illness. It’s a human experience, and recognizing it as such can make all the difference in how we help those who are struggling.

It should be no surprise that professional performance is proportional to personal well-being. A recent high-profile example is the case of Olympic athlete Simone Biles, who showed the world that she needed to put her mental health first in order to achieve professional greatness.

It is not always easy for organizations to create a corporate culture that embraces mental health, but it is essential and critical. If they get it right, these intangible tactics will have very tangible results.

Acknowledging and empathizing with mental health struggles is similar to accepting and respecting cultural and gender differences. If organizations want to have a competitive advantage, they need to create a safe working environment devoid of harassment. I call it “interpersonal intelligence,” and it may be the most important soft skill construct you hear about.

Here are the first five steps to creating a workplace that embraces those who struggle with mental health issues:

1. Acceptance

The first step is for business leaders to accept and acknowledge that challenges to mental well-being do exist and show that they are willing and prepared to help. Messaging has to come from the top when a culture is being created. This is not an HR responsibility but rather a leadership responsibility.

Employees need to know that leaders are aware and accept that mental well-being will be nurtured and nourished in the workplace without prejudice. These communications should be done ideally in a town hall setting or Zoom call, followed by written communication to all. They should also be done regularly, not as just a one-off event, as culture is built by repetition and frequency.

Give mental health the human dignity it deserves. Acknowledge that within the organization, managing mental health will be a constantly evolving endeavor and that everyone’s input will be required along the way. This builds morale by giving every employee the opportunity to play an important part and share his or her needs.

2. Be Informed

To ensure that mental well-being is part of workplace culture, it is critical that a proactive effort be made to get an understanding of the basics. I call this the A-B-C-D of mental health—namely, Anxiety-Burnout-Confusion-Depression.

Each of these has its own symptoms and its own treatments. The vital test of a successful mental health culture is knowing the difference between the four and how to manage each.

Mental health rises and dissipates in waves. It’s important for leaders and employees to be educated and aware of these symptoms, especially around timely events like deadlines and holidays, when emotions can be volatile.

3. Be Involved

Developing a positive culture involves everyone from the mailroom to the boardroom. Encourage peers to look out for one another and learn when their colleagues seem to be out of sorts. Leaders can foster well-being in their teams by simple acts such as the following:

  • Simply check in: Have one-on-one conversations by asking people how they’re doing. Listen to them, and engage. It’s amazing how cared for people can feel after a sincere and genuine conversation.
  • Simply check out: At occasional intervals, forewarn your team that all work stops at 3 p.m. on any given day. Allow your team to decide how they wish to spend the remaining hours as a team. Some options could be brainstorming, inviting a speaker, etc.
  • Foster gratitude: Exemplify genuine communication of gratitude across the team by acknowledging others and appreciating what is good about being in the moment.
  • Remind your team to engage in self-care: Show you care by reminding employees to take breaks, exercise, and share best practices that work for others.
  • Maintain a positive attitude: Teams look to their leaders to gauge their own emotional sentiment. You won’t find happy teams where unhappy leaders reside.

4. Be Resourceful

It’s important to show your employees that they have access to a variety of resources to deal with mental health issues. Have your organization provide a list of third-party professionals who are recommendations of an external resource for help. One strategy that works well and always scores a high attendance is inviting therapists and experiential experts to talk to your employees about how to manage their own challenges and teach them ways to practice self-care.

Embrace those who openly divulge their mental health struggles, and ask them if they might feel comfortable sharing how they manage their issues. Some of the best advice comes from those who have “boots on the ground” experience.

Examine workflow, and delegate accordingly. Some people who feel stressed, especially those in roles that require creativity, can feel burnt out. If possible, give them a break from these responsibilities by providing them with simple, routine work while they recover. Routine work is repetitive and easier to accomplish, so they will still feel purposeful and productive and the workflow won’t stop.

Similarly, those who suffer burnout from routine tasks should be given creative work for a certain time. Mental health is stimulated when the brain has to change its usual way of performing.

5. Corporate Culture vs. Corporate Conscience

A corporate culture is only possible if a corporate conscience is in place. If intentions are not sincere, how can actions ever be? Before leaders and teams embark on a culture-first transformation, they should first check on the credibility and integrity of their organization’s conscience.

Within any community, there are certain inherent traits that exist that can impact the mental health of its members. Similarly, organizations need to be aware of the extent to which these traits prevail and make a concerted effort to remove them while they build a culture that supports mental health. A prime example is digital harassment in the workplace.

Creating a culture that dignifies mental health will reward organizations in more ways than one. Understandably, most organizations don’t know where or how to start. These two questions can be answered if they first answer one simple question: “When do we start?”

The answer is: “Now!”

In a world that is focused on the race toward artificial intelligence, the time-tested winners will be those who nurture and nourish emotional and mental intelligence. Much is made of the “Great Resignation,” but in this readjustment and reallocation of resources lies great opportunity for employers and employees to mutually showcase their respect for and reward of a “softer side” in the interest of delivering hard results. It’s creating a human touch point for every human being.

Vipp Jaswal is the CEO and Founder of the Interpersonal Intelligence Agency. Interpersonal Intelligence is the ability to enhance the awareness and impact of the touch and pain points of human interaction in the workplace across real, digital, and virtual platforms. 

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