CEOs Ask Other Leaders to Commit to Prioritizing Employee Mental Health

The pandemic and its related uncertainties have put employees under a great amount of stress. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, a group of association CEOs is urging other leaders to take five steps to provide mental health support to their staff.

The stresses of the pandemic, the changing workplace, and racial and political unrest have taken a toll on employee mental health. With that in mind and timed to Mental Health Awareness Month, a group of nonprofit CEOs is asking fellow leaders to transform the nation’s workforce culture by pledging to prioritize employee mental health.

“It’s important for CEOs to be able to understand employees went through a time of stress, balancing that with their work life issues,” said Clarence Anthony, CEO of the National League of Cities. “The whole goal here is to motivate CEOs and employers to change the workplace culture and normalize how we talk about mental health within our organization. It’s a big step for CEOs to lead and to acknowledge this is something that needs to be dealt with.”

Anthony is one of five leaders who started the group CEOs Advancing Health Equity during the pandemic. Joining him are Georges C. Benjamin, MD, of the American Public Health Association; Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., from the American Psychological Association; Marc Ott, of International City/County Management Association; and Suzanne McCormick, from YMCA of the USA.

Ways to Better Employee Mental Health

The group suggests leaders focus on several actions to improve employee mental health. Among them: training managers to support employees’ mental health; increasing employees’ options for where, when, and how they work; ensuring health insurance policies have robust mental health coverage; using employee feedback to improve and evolve the workplace culture; and looking at organizational policies through a lens of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

While training managers and making sure insurance plans cover mental health seem like obvious fixes, how flexible work arrangements improve mental health may be less apparent. However, research shows autonomy improves mental well-being.

“When we feel like we have more control over our lives, it reduces our psychological distress and improves our mental well-being,” Evans said. “I think it’s a mistake for leaders to discount the importance of having that flexibility.”

When you have a psychologically healthy work environment, it helps with the bottom line. …And in the case of nonprofits, it is directly related to their ability to accomplish their mission.

Arthur Evans Jr., CEO of The American Psychological Association

Anthony, whose members include municipalities that often require staff to be in person for duties like trash collection and teaching, said it’s more about being flexible than being remote.

“Whether you are remote or in-person as an organization, you still need to train the managers and leaders to be able to recognize that mental health is an issue in the workplace,” Anthony said. “You still need to be able to provide flexibility to teachers or any other workers in the public space if they are having challenges with work-life issues, as well as mental health issues.”

In addition, getting regular feedback from employees allows organizations to be proactive and offer the right help at the right time.

“The kinds of issues that people were experiencing that were stressful at the beginning of pandemic are not the same issues they are experiencing stress with now,” Evans said. “So, if you’re not constantly listening to your workforce, you may not pick up on those kinds of changes.”

Gathering feedback can also help get at issues that might be unique to your workforce segment.

“What we’re finding is because of the harassment, the environment, the lack of civility, they—whether it’s a congressional member, mayor, superintendent of schools, or school board member—really are going through a difficult time right now,” Anthony said. “We encourage them to take a breath, find outlets, and to get the mental health support that they need.”

The group of CEOs targeted fellow execs because they believe leaders can spur systemic change. “It’s not just checking a box,” Evans said. “It really is trying to create an organizational culture, where, from the top to the bottom, leaders in the organization are saying, ‘This is important, and we are going to be here to support people.’”

And there’s a good business case for supporting employee mental health too.

“There’s a lot of research that shows when you have a psychologically healthy work environment, it helps with the bottom line,” Evans said. “It helps with retention, morale, productivity. This is not just good for employees, but it’s good for the business. I think so many CEOs are paying attention because they understand it’s directly related to their bottom line. And in the case of nonprofits, it is directly related to their ability to accomplish their mission.”

How does your association support employee mental health? Share in the comments.

(HAKINMHAN/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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