Mental health exists on a spectrum, and there are many factors that influence mental health and wellbeing: factors intrinsic to the individual, factors related to where a person works and plays, and factors in the external environment. There’s also a complex interplay between mental health, physical health, and social health.
For leaders seeking to strengthen mental health across a diverse workforce, I advise that they start by taking the time to understand the unique needs and drivers of their workforce. What is the local context of where they work and live? What is the nature of the work they do? And what role does stigma play in how individuals in your organization approach seeking out support for mental health?
It turns out, there is no one size fits all approach. By first deeply understanding the unique factors that influence your people, you will be able to build solutions that help collectively strengthen the mental health of your organization.
Two themes dominate today’s workplace: diversity and mental health. Yet these two goals are often pursued separately. There’s a better way. Workplace mental health can only be advanced in the context of diverse workforces, and diverse workforces can only be built inside mentally health workforces. Leaders should ask themselves two questions to strengthen mental health across diverse workforces:
1. What’s your lexicon? In my decades of work in patient advocacy, I have come to appreciate the powerful force that lexicon can play in advancing – or hurting – mental health. In diverse workforces, lexicon becomes even more critical. The words you use shape the outcomes you may achieve. It’s not your lexicon that matters, but the lexicon of the community you want to reach.
2. Where are we today? The field is awash in handbooks and toolkits that outline how to diversify and support mental health among employees. But the problem is that each workplace is in a different stage of their journey. Savvy leaders will take honest stock of where they are, then begin to build their own strategy for moving forward.
One of the responsibilities of great leadership is to elevate the voices of those we have the privilege to lead. When I think about mental health, where stigma and discrimination remain common barriers to care, this focus could not be more important. My advice for leaders is simple – bring your authentic self to work every day and educate yourself on the resources available to employees.
Leaders are certainly not perfect, but from the outside, it can often appear that we “have it all figured out.” When we perpetuate this idea, it discourages others from seeking support or speaking up when they need to. Authenticity breeds trust, and trust allows employees to feel confident asking for help.
Be transparent that while you are no expert, there are expert resources available. Be open to the dialogue and hold your teams to the same standard - because workplace culture is what we cultivate.
As we weather a challenging economic environment, organizations need to double down on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB). The workforce of our future looks demographically different than it has in the past, and fortifying a commitment to multicultural workers is more important than ever. The biggest mistake employers can make is pushing these priorities down the list - staying committed to DEIB values will foster higher productivity and longer-term retention.
Leaders should prioritize fostering an inclusive and empathetic workplace culture to enhance mental health across a diverse workforce. Understanding that mental health is shaped by factors such as culture, race, gender, and socioeconomic status is crucial. Start by creating safe spaces for open dialogues where employees feel comfortable sharing their personal experiences without fear of judgment. Offer comprehensive training sessions that educate employees about mental health, while also addressing the nuances and intersections of cultural and individual diversity. Implement flexible policies and provide resources like Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that cater to diverse needs but go beyond just these tools. Importantly, lead by example. Consistently emphasize and model the value of mental well-being, demonstrating that the organization not only acknowledges the existence of mental health challenges but is also committed to proactively addressing them. By embracing these practices, leaders can create a supportive environment where every employee feels seen, heard, and understood.
One piece of invaluable advice to fellow leaders seeking to bolster mental health in their diverse workforce is to embrace the power of vulnerability. In a world where differences abound, fostering a culture of openness and authenticity can be transformative. You can encourage your team members to share their experiences, challenges, and emotions without judgment. By demonstrating vulnerability yourself, you create a safe space where individuals from diverse backgrounds can connect on a deeper level, break down barriers, and find common ground. This promotes mental well-being and enhances empathy, understanding, and a sense of belonging within your organization. In vulnerability, we discover our shared humanity, and it is in this shared experience that true support and resilience can flourish.
The cavalry is not coming. All we have is each other. Okay that’s dramatic but the truth is traditional mental health care is not yet accessible or culturally competent enough. In addition to working to fix that – we need to learn how to support each other. Our recent research found that while young people are most likely to turn to a friend first when struggling, nearly 70% do not know what to do. That’s why we’re proud to partner with Active Minds, a leading young adult mental health non-profit, to introduce a new “stop, drop & roll” for emotional support. It’s called A.S.K. (pronounced like “ask”) and it’s an acronym for what you should do when someone in your life is struggling: Acknowledge, Support, Keep-in-Touch. We’re looking for all of the partners we can get to scale this campaign… because the best way to help a friend is to ask.