“These are my feelings, and feelings aren’t wrong.”
That one sentence is proof my 9-year-old son has a better attitude and approach to his mental health than most adults, myself included. He understands that to care for his emotions, he has to vocalize his needs and acknowledge his feelings.
So why is it so hard for us to do the same?
For many adults, it seems as though we can’t carve out space to think, let alone to feel. Slicing and dicing my time as a working parent makes it challenging to find those quiet moments to reflect on the day. I like the option of working at the office because my car ride home provides some much-needed time to comb through my emotions and take stock of my feelings. And yes – sometimes I sit in my driveway for a few more moments of vehicular therapy sponsored by the musical stylings of Adele.
But in all seriousness, if we can’t make space to think and feel, how can we even begin to care for our mental health?
Recent research from Bain & Company found that work cultures that emphasize productivity lead to higher burnout. And it seems like not a day goes by where we don’t see a flood of stories covering the topic. But these articles often seem to miss an obvious point: Productivity and well-being are intrinsically linked; you can’t have the first without a healthy dose of the second.
It goes without saying that corporations should offer their employees a robust benefits program covering all aspects of their well-being, including behavioral health, employee assistance programs and so on. But when it comes to mental health, employees are often reluctant to ask for the assistance they need – and these programs cannot work unless they have the space and support to engage. As helpful as it may be for an employee to take a mental health day, I believe it’s better to have a corporate culture that addresses the workplace issues that make taking such a day necessary in the first place.
As a leader, it’s my priority and responsibility to shape a corporate culture where people feel they can bring their authentic selves to work even – and especially – if that includes admitting to being anxious, needing a break or requiring additional support. That way, we have an opportunity to make changes before people need the mental health day – or week – or leave the company completely. Having the right kind of culture in place helps us achieve our business goals and individuals live better, more fulfilling lives. And that’s a goal we can all get behind.
With all that is going on in the world right now, caring for our employees’ well-being has never been more important, and the key to driving stronger mental health practices at work starts with how leaders show up. So, for those of us with the privilege and responsibility of setting an example and reinforcing why mental health matters, I wanted to share some of the tips that I’ve learned.
This is a segment of a blog that originally appeared in full at U.S. News on Dec. 20, 2023.
About the Author: Samantha Hammock is the EVP, CHRO of Verizon, where she is responsible for all aspects of Verizon’s HR practices.