There has been a stigma around mental health for so long that it is often perceived as a weakness, especially in the workplace. Work can be a place to thrive, show our strengths, and grow. Yet, while the acceptance of mental health has come a long way in general society, many employees still worry that any personal struggle could become a liability at work.
Instead of speaking sincerely or openly about mental health and well-being in the workplace, many employees find it easier to stay silent—the results: muted conversations, ineffective solutions, burnout, and performance challenges. According to Lyra’s 2022 Workforce Mental Health report, 58% of employees said their mental health affected their work.
While most businesses today address mental health in some capacity, progress is slow-moving. One of the primary ways we’ll see meaningful change is by encouraging open and honest conversations and initiating companywide policies that have an impact.
3 ways to strengthen the company
It’s a C-suite responsibility to create a safe space for employees to talk about well-being. Leaders must let employees know they won’t face repercussions for discussing mental health struggles and debunk the myth that success depends on a work-at-all-costs mentality. This requires a foundation for these discussions with partnerships across the business, educational and actionable trainings, and top-down buy-in. Here are three ways to strengthen your company’s approach to supporting employee well-being.
Get out and about: Our leadership team at ServiceNow works hard to move the needle on mental health and well-being. For example, our chief people officer sits on the board of Project Healthy Minds, an organization dedicated to ending the stigma around mental health. She also regularly convenes mental health advocates, experts, and leaders from other companies to discuss how we can better support mental health in the workplace. When she brings these learnings back into the organization, we demonstrate our support and encourage frank, sometimes challenging, conversations about mental health.
Give them a place to gather: We’ve evolved our well-being program at ServiceNow and built a new Global Well-being Platform to meet the needs of our workforce. This includes traditional mental health programs, like Lyra, and support for more specific well-being challenges. For example, our CLEO platform connects parents with children under 18 to resources and specialists—from fertility navigation to parenting advice. In addition, our Grayce platform offers support for employees helping aging, ill, or vulnerable loved ones by providing personalized and holistic support to navigate needs such as financial planning, medical care, and personal well-being.
Let them be: We also offer Global Well-being Days, six days off throughout the year on top of our standard holiday time off, and flexible time off to give employees a chance to pause and recharge—not only physically but mentally. In addition, we encourage employees to share how they spent their days off on internal and external communications channels to build a culture where employees feel safe—and empowered—to discuss well-being.
Build the Necessary Internal Partnerships
With privacy and anti-discrimination laws regulating sensitive data, such as medical information, as well as the highly sensitive and personal nature of this topic, strong partnerships with employment law and employee relations functions are essential in building the appropriate boundaries that allow people to be more comfortable discussing their mental health and keep your company, your leaders, and your employees protected. Employees need to know they won’t be penalized to feel safe talking about their mental health. Solid, clear, transparent guidelines developed through cross-functional collaboration can go a long way.
Equip over expertise: With the proper foundation in place, people managers need the right training and resources to respond appropriately and to know how and when to escalate an issue. This requires a culture of continuous learning that balances soft skills, like empathy and compassion, with tangible resources and defined processes. Managers shouldn’t be expected to be experts in law or medicine. Instead, training should help them:
- Handle difficult, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations with empathy
- Recognize when an issue needs to be escalated
- Be thoughtful about wording and questions
- Understand the resources offered at the company, such as mental health leaves of absence, well-being days, and counseling/therapy partnerships
Spread out the skills: In 2022, we offered 10 mental health workshops in partnership with The Jed Foundation, many of which helped managers understand warning signs and when and how to ask for help. We’ll continue to partner with the Jed Foundation in 2023. We also have specialized resources that help managers learn more about when and where a leave of absence may be appropriate and employee assistance programs that give managers a confidential, objective sounding board to role-play sensitive conversations before they happen.
Call in the coach: We offer BetterUp Coaching to newly hired managers, which combines world-class coaching with AI technology and behavioral science to improve the well-being, adaptability, and effectiveness of our leaders. Managers receive 1:1 coaching and access to specialist coaches in areas such as DEI, communications, parenting, and more.
Letting employees lead
Employees need to feel like they can talk about mental health and well-being with their managers and HR in a way that works for them. This is a shift in how leaders and HR departments have historically handled sensitive, personal topics in the workplace.
Employees shouldn’t feel stifled or silenced and shouldn’t feel pressured to share anything they aren’t ready to share. Instead, we should encourage employees to lead the conversations and set the necessary boundaries:
- What are they comfortable sharing?
- What kind of support do they need?
- What is the ideal outcome of the discussion?
- What will happen with the information they share?
Letting employees lead is vital to building trust, and acknowledgment is critical to keeping that trust. Managers must acknowledge how courageous it is for employees to be honest and vulnerable and that they hear them and will support them.
The role of a manager in a mental health conversation is to listen, learn, and support, and empathy is critical. In some cases, this means acting as a problem solver: How can they help individuals succeed as employees and a whole person? In other cases, it means understanding how they should escalate a mental health concern. This isn’t easy, and it isn’t one size fits all.
Employees tell us what they expect from us in our Employee Voice Surveys and our primary channel for business updates and company news. These channels enable employees to have psychologically safe and transparent forums to engage, connect, ask questions, communicate with leaders, and discuss topics that are important to them.
We see results. Our annual Employee Voice Survey showed significant improvement in well-being and role clarity—a direct result of the action plan from one year ago.
While the estimated $47.6 billion lost annually due to mental health-related productivity impacts is staggering, it’s not the only headline. We are in the most competitive talent market in recent history, where human capital is the most precious asset. However, we are in jeopardy of losing great talent, minds, and innovation if we do not remove the stigmas around mental health and recommit to well-being with inclusive support and resources. We must learn to talk openly about mental health. That’s a start.
Becky Bailey has over three decades of experience directing employee benefits programs for top employers across various industries—from tech to financial services to entertainment. She serves as the VP of global benefits & well-being at ServiceNow, where she drives global benefits & well-being strategy for the company’s multinational workforce. Becky is currently chairing the Silicon Valley Employer Forum, a coalition of high-tech employers that impacts and influences the evolution of global benefits & well-being. Prior to joining eBay, Becky directed benefits at Pure Storage, eBay, Applied Materials, Countrywide Financial, and Universal Studios. Becky got her start at Atlantic Richfield Company and British Petroleum.