The following post is an excerpt from my interview with Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated, in his series “How Business Leaders Are Helping To Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees”. You can find a link to the full article below:
In the United States we need to normalize talking about and focusing on mental health. For the bulk of my life mental health was a taboo subject. I suffer from anxiety and depression myself and I remember when my mother confronted me to tell me that she thought I needed medication I actually bristled and was insulted. I look back now and think how stupid I was to see that as a weakness. My anxiety has actually helped me to be a much better leader believe it or not.
For better or worse I tend to be an open book with my staff. When I have spoken to a staff member who is actively struggling I share my own story with them and it helps them to know they are going to be okay. As leaders we have a unique position to help normalize stress, depression, anxiety, and mental health by talking about it, training our professional staff on how to deal with it, and providing resources to help our staff members and their families.
Here are the five most important steps I've taken to Improve employee wellness in a pandemic:
Make sure you have EAP. For the first 5 year of my organization we didn’t have an Employee Assistance Plan. An EAP is a critical step in helping support your employee’s mental wellness. Since incorporating the EAP program we have had staff use it for different issues that have come up. EAP is free to the employee which is an added bonus during these tough financial times.
Wellness Days. The second year of our school we began incorporating Wellness Days into our Professional Development calendar. This is a very easy thing to do and costs little to the company. We began by asking staff what they would like to experience during those days and also asked what sessions staff members could offer. Over the course of the last 6 years we have offered so many cool experiences from which I know people have incorporated what they’ve learned into their own routines.
Wellness Committee. When COVID forced our school to close overnight we realized the negative impact isolation could have on our strong culture. To combat that we created a wellness committee that created different activities that kept us connected. We had a fitness challenge, a fiction book club, a Zoom cooking show each Wednesday and Zoom trivia.
Mental Health Days. I am a leader who is in tune with her people. When I see someone struggling I often encourage them to take a mental health day and I don’t “charge” them for it. I might say “Hey Chris I notice you have been working really hard, I’ve also noticed that you seem a little stressed, how can I help?” Once we discuss what his going on I’ll say “Listen, why don’t you take tomorrow off as a mental health day, do something nice for yourself.” I have found at first people seem reticent but when they realize I am 100% coming from a place of support and love they take me up on it. They always return in a better headspace.
Encourage Vulnerability. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing things about themselves but I would recommend encouraging some level of vulnerability. If people don’t feel they can share things with which they are struggling they may not get help. I tend to believe in leading by example in this realm. If I make a mistake I will call it out and proclaim my mea culpa to my employees, if we are talking about the importance of self-care I will share a time when I struggled and how it impacted me. When people hear and see the CEO of their organization being authentic and has similar struggles it helps to normalize what they may be going through.
Click below to read the full interview with Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated, in his series “How Business Leaders Are Helping To Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees”.