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The Most Important Workplace Conversation: Our Mental Health

December 17th, 2018 Respect in the Workplace


Drew Aversa, MBA & RYT

Featured on FORBES

Have you wondered why your workplace isn’t much better than your friend’s, yet the grass always seems to look greener? Or why the majority of employees are checked out at work today? It’s because we aren’t talking about the most important thing at work: everyone’s mental health.

If mindset is the most important thing to creating winning cultures, then why aren’t we talking about mental health as a key performance indicator of organizational success?

What do you think of when you hear the words “mental health?” To many people, mental health screams stigma and craziness because of the way it has been portrayed in movies for years. Americans also tend to have it worse because duty was and is a staple of our ethnocentric view of success, impeding the ability to express vulnerability and inclusive views that make every human — no matter how rich or poor — feel safe and heard.

As we ignore the importance of mental health in the workplace, we continue to see depression rise and stress being recognized as a top health epidemic of our time. According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, Ph.D. of Stanford, some workplace conditions may even result in premature death. Isn’t it interesting how we can talk about cancer all day, yet we can’t talk about what might be spreading cancer in the first place (i.e., stress)?

It’s easy to talk root cause analysis in business, yet the western view thinks it can separate mind-body-spirit as if they were made in different assembly plants. It’s for this reason that I speak nationally on the importance of brain health for business leaders — because it is the most important thing that makes or breaks companies today.

Before my business life, I was critically injured as a firefighter. I never received counseling, and I had no idea the trauma my body endured and the trauma I saw would catch up with me because, in health care, the mind and body are taught to be separate. Healing naturally, seeking out top experts and truth, I transformed my life from firefighter to Fortune 150. Today, I coach business leaders on how to break through trauma so it does not creep into the workplace as negative projection — something that’s seen all too often in toxic workplaces.

But it isn’t the toxic workplace that’s killing us; it’s the aggregate sum of people who haven’t resolved their own trauma who are killing themselves slowly and the people under their power.

As stress rises and begins to impact even the most resilient of leaders, it is critical that everyone understand how the brain impacts total and organizational health. Say it with me now: My brain is the hormone control center. My brain is the thought center. My brain holds my breathing center. My brain is the reaction center. My brain can get me into Harvard. Lastly, my brain is more important than I ever realized.

When we start to look at brain health, we begin to ask questions that every worker can get behind because they don’t have the stigma attached to them. If we choose to avoid prioritizing mental health at work, we will continue to perpetuate every issue we’ve seen, from #MeToo scandals to exploiting workers. A leader doesn’t need to be diagnosed with a mental disorder to have cloudy judgment and a deep-rooted bias.

What’s crazier than the stigma of mental health today is not talking about ways people can evolve to a higher consciousness to truly lead others during one of the most uncertain and dynamic times in world history, as innovation causes massive disruptions across numerous industries. Focusing on healthy minds can allow us to have healthy business conversations on topics like:

• Gender equity

• A declining middle class

• Politics prohibiting progress

• Inclusive business practices

• Transformational corporate social responsibility

As a leader who broke through life-changing challenges, my trauma-informed view sheds a unique perspective on the topic of mental health and stress in the workplace. It also lends a view of truth and inspiration, so we can begin treating mental health as a key pillar of business success.

If you’re ready to change your workplace culture so everyone can thrive, here are some action items I recommend:

1. Form a peer support team. Mental health issues take a 360-degree approach. Not only do people have immediate health issues to take care of, but also they are not thinking clearly (finances run amiss, diet goes out the window, depression keeps them in bed for weeks, etc.). A peer support or care team needs to break down the walls of the current HR compliance mindset — the hands-off approach that lets top talent slip into the void on stress leave — that is rooted in fear. Caring is common sense.

2. Care about your co-worker. A lot of adults are solo as they leave their families to find lonely success in big cities. You don’t have to love everything about your co-worker, but you do have to care.

3. Set a reminder. It’s human nature to forget. Set a reminder on your calendar to check in with your teammate who is out. Never forget about people, or they may one day forget about you.

4. Meditate before team meetings. For every veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there are 30 civilians with it. Car accidents, health issues, abuse, etc. add up. When trauma runs the mind, people are reactive and not focused. Encourage everyone on your team to begin focusing on their breath to unwind. Do this for two minutes.

Note that these action items don’t require a full legal review; they require just that: action.

As I coach clients through fear, I get them talking about mental health in the workplace to change an outdated stigma that prohibits an inclusive work environment. If you’re not talking about mental health today in your leadership meetings, why not? And for how much longer do you plan to avoid your most important metric of success?


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