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Modeling what matters: 3 ways leaders can influence workplace mental health

By Headspace, an Accolade Trusted Partner | June 08, 2023 | 4 min read

As mental health awareness continues to be top of mind for organizations, new research shows the gap is closing between employee and CEO sentiments around mental health, and it’s time to find ways to keep this momentum going. Both leaders and employees alike agree that when their mental health is balanced, they’re better at work. People can be more present, engage more deeply and build stronger connections with the colleagues around them.

But there are pressures on people both in and out of the workplace that make it hard to maintain a healthy mental state. Uncertainty and instability have become the norm in today’s world, and that can take a toll on mental health — both in the workplace and outside of it. In addition to managing work responsibilities, employees are also concerned about managing their family and home life, economic uncertainty, and traumatic events around the globe. How can you find ways to encourage positive mental health habits that improve workplace culture?

When leaders, from CEOs to all levels of management, help model how to take care of themselves, it can make a positive impact on the entire workplace — from helping their team manage their time and workloads to making a difference across the organization’s culture overall. In this blog, we’ll discuss why positive change at work starts with the individual and how leaders can be good stewards of mental health awareness.

How managers can address the top drivers of dread at work

According to Headspace’s 2023 Workforce Attitudes Toward Mental Health report, nearly half of employees feel a sense of dread at work at least once a week.

Survey respondents say what drives this dread the most is rising expectations to take on more responsibilities (45%) and a lack of stability at work (45%). With rounds of layoffs, employees who remain on the job are dealing with additional roles and responsibilities to compensate for a loss of their teammates — while also processing the emotions of saying goodbye to coworkers and worries that they could be the next to be laid off.

The survey goes on to explore the role that managers have when it comes to what is driving the dread. The research found three things managers can directly influence through actions that perpetuate or alleviate employee stress: (1) a lack of respect for working hours, (2) a lack of understanding of life outside of work and (3) creating an unsustainable workload. In contrast, half of employees say their manager has positively impacted their mental health by being flexible with schedules or flexible with projects to accommodate personal issues.

Leaders can reduce feelings of dread and stress in the workplace by being intentional and mindful in how and when they communicate with their teams, being flexible with schedules and respecting that people have priorities and a life outside of work.

Modeling positive behavior from the top

The good news is that when employees see their leaders openly discussing mental health and demonstrating self care and stress management, they feel inclined to follow suit. Eighty-seven percent of CEOs have talked to their staff or employees about their own mental health, a remarkable jump from 79% in 2022. That’s great news, as 76% of employees say they appreciate it when leaders discuss emotional and mental health.

Beyond just talking the talk, CEOs are also beginning to walk the walk. Ninety-two percent of CEOs say they model best practices of how to care for mental health to their employees, and 64% regularly take advantage of mental health benefits.

When leaders demonstrate how they take care of their own mental health — whether by sharing their personal experience, creating safe spaces to discuss mental health or simply blocking their calendar for a walk outside — they show employees how they can do the same. These examples go a long way in driving a positive culture from the top down.

Making conversations about mental well-being the norm

To promote mental health awareness, Headspace Health put together a toolkit with practical tips for leaders to take care of their own mental health and model it as a priority with their team. By taking advantage of this time to consider what new healthy habits you can introduce for yourself, your team or your organization, you can find ways to build a culture of mental health. When teams feel safe, supported and connected, they can be their best and bring their best to work.

Interested in learning more about the state of mental health in the workplace today, and steps leaders can take to improve mental health at work? Read the full report here.

Headspace Health is part of Accolade's Trusted Partner Ecosystem, which exists to simplify benefits selection for our customers and drive a more integrated experience for our members.

Headspace Health provides comprehensive digital mental health services to over 100 million people in 190 countries. Through its flagship Headspace brand, Headspace Health provide mindfulness tools for everyday life, including meditations, sleepcasts, mindful movement, and focus exercises. Headspace Health’s solutions, Headspace for Work and Ginger, are distributed through more than 4,000 enterprises, including Starbucks, Adobe, Delta Air Lines, Mattel, and Paramount; and through health plans such as Cigna. Headspace Health’s members and enterprise partners’ employees have access to mindfulness and meditation tools, CBT, coaching, therapy, and psychiatry, ultimately helping them to be healthier and more productive.

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