• Sarah Vizer

Mental Wellness - Making it a CEO priority and how Leaders and HR can foster this

Updated: Jul 9


After recently being quoted in a HRD article around mental health and CEO priorities, I started thinking more about making this a topic of conversation. As a specialist in preventing and managing high stress and burnout, I am VERY interested in seeing this happen.


It’s raised some interesting questions... How invested is your average CEO in the mental wellness of their people? And what role does Leadership and HR play in facilitating this?


Here’s why I think stress, burnout and fostering mental wellness SHOULD be top of the list of CEO and Executive concerns and what your leaders and HR teams can do to foster both the focus and expenditure on this.


I’d love to hear more about your experiences – both good and bad examples.

 

Long article warning – Here’s the summary first!


>> Summary

  • Getting the right people in the right positions is a wasted effort if they are then entering a burnout culture

  • We are seeing signs of widespread issues with mental health in our workplaces and there is a growing expectation that organisations are part of the solution when dealing with these issues.

  • Mental wellness is a proactive concept and raising levels of mental wellness has many benefits, including impact on the financial bottom line.

  • Fostering mental wellness in our people requires both focus and expenditure for it to be effective.

  • Proactive mental wellness initiatives work best when there is a shared responsibility from both the individual and the organisation.

  • We can create better training for front-line managers in the art of first managing their own stress and burnout and then being able to identify and manage it in others.

  • Leaders can ensure they are leading by example in their own wellness behaviours, such as maintaining a life outside of the workplace, regular self-care routines and seeking assistance when necessary.

  • Leaders and HR can be part of the solution by:

  1. Identifying what initiative are not working.

  2. Partnering with your people to work out what is needed

  3. Use the fact you’re on the front-line for your people’s mental wellness to make issues visible to the CEO and Executive.

 

>> What growing risk are we facing?


A common line we hear is that our people are the most important resource in any business. Jim Collins in ‘Good to Great’ talks about having the right people on the bus before you start a journey toward excellence. Anyone who has experienced hiring will know we spend so much time and effort finding these ‘right’ people for our business.


But if you place someone who is inherently right into a burnout culture or a culture that does not support their sense of wellness, then you are basically undoing all that good work of finding the ‘right’ people in the first place.

Well guess what – this is exactly what we are doing! Check out these statistics from a recent survey by the Adecco Group*...

53% of Australian respondents reported that they have suffered from working too hard / burnout during the last 12 months.
71% of employees view having the right support for mental health at work will be important to them in future.

The consensus is in…we have widespread issues with mental health in our workplaces. This was the trend before the pandemic and it’s only worsened over the last 2 years as we’ve struggled to work productively from our cramped living spaces.


But really importantly for our senior leaders to hear….there is a growing expectation that organisations are part of the solution when dealing with these issues.


Clearly, the time for pushing the resolution back onto the individual has passed. Ignoring this message becomes a threat to the ongoing culture of the business and your reputation for being a decent place of work…yes word gets around!


>> “What has this got to do with me?” asks the CEO?

No CEO or Executive would really ask that right!? It has a LOT to do with you and I’d like to think this is becoming clearer.


Let’s talk about mental wellness in our workforce. This is a proactive concept, as opposed to mental health. It falls into the prevention bucket and as the saying goes,

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Partnering with our people to raise mental wellness across the board is a no-brainer when you consider the following factors:

  • Our workforce is a resource that affects all area of the business

  • They pose great opportunity and also great threat to the ongoing running of the business (think of our medical industry in Australia crying out for help during the pandemic and so many good people leaving as a result)

  • They have the capability to cause massive reputational damage if not handled appropriately, and

  • Leading companies with a proactive stance on employee health and wellness are now gaining reputational competitive advantage….yes people talk!

And here’s a big one…it will hit your bottom line – in a good way. Take a look at all the behaviours that result when mental wellness at work is not managed

  • Increased Absences – taking leave...stress leave, sick leave, undefined leave

  • Decline in Mental Wellness and Increase in Illness – ranging from serious illness to worsening of conditions such as anxiety and depression

  • Resignations – people leaving the organisation, their industry or even their profession entirely

  • Decreased Productivity – lower performance and people not as clear thinking as they once were

  • Heightened Emotions – both hidden and overt in the form of outbursts, frustration, grief, less tolerance

  • Lower Engagement and Morale – decreasing engagement scores and increasing distress for your people.

??? How many signs of a burnout culture is your team showing? You can take an assessment here to self-rate your team, based on what current research reveals as the leading indicators of a burnout culture.



>> You’re a Leader or in HR – what should you be doing?

As I flagged in the beginning, fostering mental wellness in our people requires both focus and expenditure for it to be effective. Here are some ideas around making this happen.


1. First up identify what’s not working.

Too often I’m hearing mental health initiatives that large, reputational organisations are taking fall short of expectations:


I’ve heard of:

  • Mental first aiders trained in the business….but difficulty occurs with confiding in someone you work with.

  • Low EAP take-up and experiences around bad advice and negative perceptions across counselling as a whole from these services.

  • One-off resilience training which has great content but is ineffective overall. When you’re stressed, burnt out and need assistance resilience is more of a long-term change in thoughts, behaviours and actions.

These organisations are trying – at least at face value. But what they are implementing is not effective.


2. Partner with your people to work out what is needed

Proactive mental wellness initiatives work best when there is a shared responsibility from both the individual and the organisation. As individuals we take responsibility for our own health and wellbeing. But we also want to feel supported by our leaders and the organisation we work for.


So why not ask the people you’re trying to support what they need? Their response may be surprising.


Research has now firmly established stress and burnout often arises from the job and/or workplace itself. In particular, it’s been found that certain aspects make it more likely for burnout to occur – things like fairness, workloads, community, control, reward and alignment of values.


You might have issues with these aspects of the organisation for yourself. Maybe you have a huge workload and struggle with the hours? Maybe you see systemic unfairness? Or feel like you lack control in key areas?


Actually paying attention to what the pain points are for your people and actively looking to address them demonstrates real concern.


Other things that make a difference include:

  1. Better training for front-line managers in the art of first managing their own stress and burnout and then being able to identify and manage it in others.

  2. Making sure our leaders are leading by example in their own wellness behaviours, such as maintaining a life outside of the workplace, regular self-care routines and seeking assistance when necessary.

  3. Fostering an environment where the individual can take an attitude of responsibility for their own mental and physical health. We all need to be able to proactively ask for help when required and make the changes needed to ensure sustainability in our career.


3. You’re a Leader or in HR? You’re the front-line for your people’s mental wellness and can make issues visible.

Points 1 and 2 above are about looking for the initiatives that are going to actually work in your environment. This next point is about making sure these efforts are organisation-wide and supported from the top.


>If you’re in HR Are you jointly charged with the wellbeing of the people? Are you seen as an expert in this area? Maybe you report on the people metrics of the business and have access to data around absences, resignations and other signs of mental health?


If these are correct, you have power to make issues visible and put forward suggestions for improving mental wellness that actually work.


HR is often called upon as a reactive process to intervene in times of crisis. In terms of mental wellness, it’s often too late to be able to easily reverse negative trends. Proactively looking at ways to strategically prevent and manage mental health issues is a much smarter use of your resources.


>For our Leaders – There are actions you can take to improve mental wellness all round.


Firstly, look after yourself. Lead by example by taking exemplary care of your own health and wellbeing. Stress can be catching and a stressed-out leader is often the cause of burnout for others. Managing stress, living a good life…hey this may even mean the difference between life and death one day!


Next, amplify good behaviour. If you’re modelling good health and wellbeing practices, call it out in others as well – both up the food chain and for those you lead. This will not only signal your good leadership qualities, but will help improve culture overall.


Finally, reflect your observations to the CEO and Executive level. Organisations are now establishing competitive advantage through having a reputation for wellness solutions that are both proactive and a coordinated response to the mental health challenges being presented.


*Source: Resetting Normal - Defining the New Era of Work 2021, Adecco Group Survey 2021

 

Sarah Vizer is the creator of Beyond Burnout.


As a High Performance and Burnout Specialist she has dedicated her time to supporting our top professionals reach new levels of high performance, without the burnout.


She offers individual and team support for you and your organisation.


You can find her at www.sarahvizer.com


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