The buck stops here, and the stress does, too. Leaders, we need to talk about your mental wellness.
Global health insurer Bupa reached out to thousands of senior business leaders and found that 58% felt opening up about mental health is hard. Leaders who were enduring mental health conditions felt talking about it would affect their current role, perceptions of their capabilities, and future career.
The reality is that the mental wellness of a CEO trickles down into the crevices of every department through organisational mandates and every employee through corporate culture regulation.
By its very nature, being a CEO comes with a certain amount of work pressure. However, this could lead to an unhealthy work/life balance, untenable amounts of pressure and stress, and heavy workloads. Combined with personal issues, the burden can be too much for the mind to bear.
A recent report indicated that mental wellness issues are costing the Australian economy up to $60 billion per annum. The negative effects are usually twofold —
- The physical health issue. Our mental and physical health are closely linked. Mental illness can lead to heart disease, depression, anxiety, diabetes, schizophrenia, and osteoporosis. Obviously, none of these is good for business.
- Leadership and decision-making acumen. Mental illness can also derail business performance directly. For instance, CEO narcissism has been linked to workplace pressure, which can cause a CEO to care less about the people around her.
What does mental wellness look like?
According to Dr. Jane Myers, one of the founders of the concept, wellness refers to ‘a holistic approach in which mind, body, and spirit are integrated. It is a way of life oriented toward optimal health and well-being in which body, mind, and spirit are integrated in a purposeful manner with a goal of living life more fully… Wellness is more than the absence of disease, [or] a state defined as ‘health.’ [It] incorporated a concern for optimal functioning.’
A mentally healthy person has a high degree of material creativity. Business leaders with a healthy mental state will apply an open-minded, possibly experimental problem-solving strategies.
A mentally healthy person has stress management skills. Problems in business are inevitable. The measure of mental wellness is not the absence of problems, but how the individual responds to them. Healthy coping mechanisms include satisfaction in leisure, realistic beliefs, and high self-worth regardless of the outcome of any one event.
A mentally healthy person has social skills. The ability to trust, empathise, and be understood are three pillars of social navigation and usually indicative of a mentally well person.
Look after yourself first: Helpful tips to achieve mental wellness
So what can we do to build our own mental wellness or help to train a CEO in need? Here are a few tips for anyone who is looking to help themselves achieve higher mental wellness or learn the skills to teach a business leader.
- Build relationships. Our society is often the barometer for our level of mental wellness. Staying grounded in this paradigm through strong relationships is a great way to feel and be healthy.
- Exercise and stay healthy. Mind health advocate Anthony Hart uses a four-step plan to increase mental health — talk, exercise, reduce alcohol, and sleep. Exercise is an important part of this paradigm that helps with the other three. Staying physically healthy provides opportunities to talk, encourages the body to reduce alcohol, and definitely helps with sleep.
- Develop gratitude. Research shows developing an attitude of gratitude improves physical health and increases mental strength. Whilst the science of gratitude is not clear, reports suggest that it reduces stress levels by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Identify and use your strengths. If you build memories of positive experiences based on your thought patterns, you touch the beginnings of confidence. Confidence is essential to an abundance mindset, which is vital for mental health.
- Be kind. Often an overlooked tool in improving mental wellbeing, doing acts of kindness — secretly paying for an elderly couple’s dinner at a restaurant — reduces stress and negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, and depression.
Pass it on: Managing mental wellness in the workplace
Many workplace mental health problems occur because people just don’t talk about it. Employees are afraid of getting demoted or fired. CEOs, on the other hand, are afraid of looking weak.
The World Health Organisation has listed depression as the number one cause of global disability. As a leader, it is your job to set the tone when it comes to talking about mental wellness.
Think about developing a communication strategy for mental health disclosure. No one said that direct was best. Set up an anonymous system for disclosure and address issues in a general way at group meetings.
For those who are looking to get help with mental wellness, here are some resources —
- 000 – This is the number to dial if urgent help (an ambulance) is required.
- Head to Health – This is a service of the Australian government that helps people find trusted resources.
- Regional health services – Visit this page for mental health services that are distributed by region.
Mental wellness from the top down
Leadership is all about setting an example. You do not have to be perfect — people are much more likely to respect an executive who knows how to handle her flaws.
Looking after the wellness of your organisation means looking after your own wellness first. Having access to new perspectives — whether from fellow business peers, an outside facilitator, or a confidential mentor — can help. For more information or to speak to a membership advisor, contact TEC today.