In 2020, mental health finally received much due attention. Billions of people were forced to isolate themselves away from any friends or extended family and asked to work from home to stop the spread of Covid-19. From this came one of the largest mental health crises to ever happen, bringing these once taboo conversations to the forefront of the world’s attention- specifically pertaining to the workplace.
We all know that work can be stressful and even cause some anxiety for some professionals—however, for many workers who struggle with mental health, it can quickly spiral into a larger issue that affects their role and performance.
Mental health affects everyone, including myself. As you may have guessed, being a founder and CEO since the age of 23 hasn’t always been a stress-free experience. Though I love the work I do, there is rarely success without any sacrifice, and sacrifice often results in burnout, stress, and anxiety. Through my personal journey, I’ve learned a lot about where mental health stands in the workplace, and how to take care of myself when there were little to no instructions on how.
Workplaces have been due for an overhaul for a long time, and in this time of change, now is the best opportunity to do so. Whether you’re a business leader trying to create a safe space for mental health support, or an employee searching for ways to cope, I’ve taken my own experiences to help guide you through these difficult times.
The sudden shift toward remote work was a wake-up call for the workforce and companies alike. Seemingly out of nowhere, business leaders were faced with the fact that their workers are in fact actual humans: they *gasp* have spouses, children, and issues to deal with outside of work. This realization opened Pandora’s Box, revealing all the situations and issues that workers were dealing with under the surface.
Nine in 10 employees report that workplace stress affects their mental health. Add on top of this stress the stressors of everyday situations and issues, and companies suddenly have a much larger problem than they had previously thought (or ignored). Yet still, even during remote work, leaders pushed strict, 9-5 days with rigid breaks and little wiggle room for time off, even when their employees were witnessing their work and life collide in a way it had never before.
Workers are stressed, anxious, and just plain burned out. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, one way employers can help support mental health is by offering flexibility. With flexible schedules, workers are empowered to work around times that work best for them, providing time to take care of themselves and their families, limiting stressful work situations. In a study conducted in 2020, 84 percent of respondents with mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression indicated that a flexible job could help them better manage their illnesses. Flexibility is the first step toward mental support in the workplace, and companies who haven’t already recognized its value need to get on board, fast or face a decline in retention.
Workers aren’t the only ones dealing with stress—leadership struggles just as much with sometimes even less support: 64 percent of senior business leaders have suffered from mental health conditions including anxiety, stress, and depression. My personal journey as a leader has been marked by anxiety several times, and from experience, I can say that struggling as a leader is incredibly difficult, especially when you also need to focus on taking care of your employees on top of your own struggle. However, it is in these times that we need to be most vulnerable—not just with ourselves, but our very own team.
Mental health issues can strike at any time, not just a crisis. From doing simple work tasks to figuring out a workplace disagreement, stress and anxiety can affect anyone. To best support both workers and leaders in their struggles, the simplest way is to talk about it. For decades, discussing any kind of mental health with coworkers was considered to be taboo. Now that workers have had the chance to peek into one another’s lives through the lens of remote work, there’s a deeper understanding of each other’s lives, and an opportunity to be vulnerable.
Encouraging conversations about mental health can feel scary, but they don’t have to start too deeply. As a leader, try to host personal, one-on-one check-ins with your team to ask how they’re doing- not just in terms of work, but life as a whole. Determine where, if at all, you can support them best. Employees can also check in with their teammates, and practice being vulnerable with one another. In terms of being vulnerable with leadership, it can seem overwhelming to admit to a boss or supervisor that you’re struggling. Start small: write up a quick script to help guide the conversation, and most of all be honest- they may be able to help you in more ways than you could know!
Taking care of your mental health is no easy task- unfortunately, there is no three-step process or solution that works for everyone. However, there are steps you can take to help support yourself and ensure you’re doing your best to prevent any extra anxiety from piling on and exaggerating stress.
Boundaries are one of the most important steps to take when creating a healthier life- especially when it comes to working. I used to work late nights and weekends just to try and finish projects ahead of time- then I started to set limits on my working hours to spend time with my family rather than another task. Getting quality time with my family after a long day did wonders, and although I’m still working on boundaries, they’ve helped quite a bit. Also, find solace within your colleagues; although there is an obvious line to avoid crossing with unloading too much, you’d be surprised by how many of them deal with much similar issues.
Finally, if your role or career path doesn’t support your mental health, it’s likely time to find a new job: recent studies have even found that professionals who are given flexibility and work from home options are 87 percent more likely to love their job. As the push for flexibility and remote options in the workplace continues, more companies every day make the switch to flexible schedules and put their employee’s well-being at the forefront of their values.
Whether you’re an executive or an employee, you’re not alone in struggling with mental health at work. It can feel incredibly discouraging to struggle in your life and career, but there are ways you can work to start the conversation in the workplace and begin a cycle of support by leaning on one another through the difficult times.