We are overdue.
Bhavik Shah | Principal, Mind Share Partners
This article was originally published on Linkedin Pulse.
Awareness months have gained popularity in educating the masses on very important subject matters. The month of May is no different—ranging from Mental Health Awareness, AAPI Heritage, and ALS awareness to name a few. Specifically for mental health awareness, many organizations wait until May to fulfill their yearly quota, declaring they have done their part to create a workplace that fosters support for their employees.
As a collective society, the last two years have been the most challenging period many of us have experienced in our lifetimes. (Covid-19 pandemic, surge of hate crimes, police brutality, and political wars to name a few) The impact has inevitably been woven into our professional lives, affecting how we show up at work and the desperate desire to feel psychologically safe. While we have seen organizations make a shift in mental health awareness, solely depending on campaigns such as “mental health is not mental illness” or “it’s okay to not be okay”, creates a very dangerous illusion of mitigating workplace stressors. Employees are seeing right through this mirage and are increasingly leaving their jobs to preserve their mental health.
Over-indexing on awareness months and failing to create a mentally healthy culture for the rest of the year is pure negligence. In order to counteract this, we must re-evaluate the way many of us have been socialized to work. Historically, the “ideal worker” mentality has proven to be incredibly harmful and oppressive towards specific communities. The realities of our livelihoods, households, and everyday micro experiences are very different in 2022, yet we still adhere to working conditions that were created dating as far back as the Industrial Revolution.
Working parents could care less about office ping pong, and would like to spend more time looking after their children. Marginalized communities are petrified in taking public transport due to the horrific rise in hate crimes, surging to the highest level in the US in 12 years. Hollow slogans for wellness programs almost directly negate creditability for that employee whose work environment remains toxic. There have been countless other data points and research published on how the pandemic has substantially altered our daily circumstances - bringing challenges to the forefront. Yet organizations are continuing to take a tepid approach to alter working conditions. It’s time to walk the walk once and for all.
Culture Change Takes Time And Investment
Employees want to flourish and have the desire to be part of a culture that is inclusive of their unique identities and experiences. How do we move past this dilemma and double down on accountability, so we aren’t forcefully trapped in a never-ending vicious cycle? Here are five ways to take immediate action.
Educate Your Leaders
Companies are investing in new roles within the umbrellas of “Wellness” and DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging). While there may be perils of performative action with these role creations, there is a unique opportunity to take this movement to the next level. These newly appointed leaders can leverage competitor analysis and research to showcase the benefits of a mentally healthy culture, and how it yields ROI for the entire organization. If leaders continue to follow Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk’s example about remote flexibility or believe that employees are the least engaged when working from home such as WeWork’s CEO, Sandeep Mathrani — then they must also accept this truth: You are not thinking about employee mental health. You prefer to justify an environment where you remain in power and control.
Stop Abusing The Urgency Of Organizational Priorities
It has become hyper normalized that every email, every ask, and every message becomes an instant priority. While it may seem clear as day that humans cannot operate at the same wavelength as high functioning robots, we all allow this working behavior to continue—and exacerbate this behavior while working remotely as a result of the pandemic. Leaders need to holistically evaluate their business priorities against their employee capacity and set realistic revenue goals. Partner with stakeholders on deadlines so you are lessening the risk of employee burnout. Remember, if everything is urgent, nothing is urgent.
Be As Transparent As Possible
Often times critical decisions are made that leave employees in the dark, wondering why they had to put in late nights on a project or work through holiday weekends. The stigma associated with transparency needs to be addressed in order to create a culture of sustainable work practices. The less employees understand why they are sacrificing their personal time for work priorities, the less they will be engaged at work.
Align Your Daily Practices To Your Company Slogans
Whether it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, AAPI Heritage Month, PRIDE, or any other worthy cause—it is important to remember employees are holding the organization accountable all year round. Do not let White Supremacy culture dictate workplace environments any longer. Train your managers in how they can be inclusive across different identities. Understand that introversion can still lead to success. Support those employees who directly ask for help.
Build After Awareness Months
Investing in mental health webinars, trainings, and creating more budget for employee resources are all great strategies to support workplace mental health. However, the journey should not stop there. Engage your employees post all May Awareness activities, and directly ask for feedback. What did they like? What was missing? When it comes to company resources, consistency is key. Communicate details on how to access them at every town hall, team meeting, and 1:1 catch-up. If people are comfortable sharing their stories about how they leveraged these resources, communicate that as well.
As organizational leaders think about “What’s next?” in June, lean into the discomfort and ask yourselves difficult questions to embrace accountability. It will not always be an easy process, but if done with consistency and empathy, it will be a path where we all will thrive.
Bhavik is a Principal at Mind Share Partners. He leads impact-focused advising for companies and leaders on how to create a culture of support for mental health in the workplace. He facilitates Mind Share Partners’ workplace training and leads strategic projects across a portfolio of clients focused on improving mental health in the workplace. Bhavik has spent his career in the financial services industry, delivering large-scale programs across regulatory reform, technology integration, and data analytics.
He has worked across the US and UK with global clients to define business models, implement strategic program governance, and establish operating models for operational efficiency. Prior to joining Mind Share Partners, he successfully implemented a robust mental health program across a global workforce of 4000+ employees, committing to provide pragmatic services via executive sponsorship and partnering with external professionals.
He served as the UK Mental Health Lead and Global Advisor for other geographic locations. This has resulted in Forbes recognition and external nominations from the following organizations: This Can Happen, Inside Out, Working Mums UK, and Make a Difference. He is also a public speaker focusing on People Engagement, Mental Health & Technology, and Diversity & Inclusion. Bhavik graduated cum laude from St. John's University with a B.S. in Finance. He also is a certified Mental Health First Aider, issued by MHFA England.