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Executives like me must help reduce workplace stress — and embrace mental health

I no longer let the stigmas scare me. Neither should other business leaders.

Photo by Mubariz Mehdizadeh on Unsplash
Photo by Mubariz Mehdizadeh on Unsplash

A recent report from Gallup showing a rise in stress, worry and anger across the United States should serve as a wake-up call to my fellow business leaders who occupy c-suites across the country.

The facts are in. We’re not doing enough to address our employees’ mental and emotional well being. This failure comes despite increasing talk about mental health in the workplace. At the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, CEOs of two major corporations joined government leaders and activists in discussing the issue’s importance.

Of course, the “negative emotions” Gallup reports on are not exclusively about work. The angst people are feeling has a range of sources. But as WebMD reports, when people are surveyed about causes of stress, work “tops the list.” And “too much stress or chronic stress can lead to major depression in susceptible people.”

An estimated 40 million U.S. adults face anxiety disorders every year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. High-stress workplaces exacerbate this crisis.

In today’s fast-paced business environment, with new competition constantly popping up, stress can get especially intense. And just as our employees pay a price for it in their mental health, our businesses do as well in the bottom line.

The U.S. economy loses $1 trillion a year in productivity alone due to depression and anxiety, the World Health Organization reports. And the amount of money businesses are spending on the mental health of employees is rising twice as fast as all other medical expenses, according to NBC.

So just as revolutionizing how we handle mental health is the right thing to do for our people, it’s also the right thing to do for our companies, investors and shareholders.

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

We should also make sure we’re giving our employees reasonable workloads, and not expecting them to respond to emails at all hours. We should also make sure that mental health care is covered as part of insurance plans.  Giving employees access to assistance programs such as 24/7 support hotlines can be helpful as well.

But there’s another big step we all need to take: ending the stigmas. And that includes doing something all too rare. It’s time for business leaders to open up about our own mental health.

I know this isn’t easy. I wrestled with doing so. I was convinced that if I told my employees colleagues and bosses about my anxiety and depression, I’d be seen as weak. I thought it might end my career.

I’m happy to say I was wrong.

Sharing my story at work has made me a better boss — more empathetic, open, and connected to my employees. They began sharing their stories with me. My weekly therapy sessions are now listed on my calendar at work for everyone to see.

I also went a step further, writing about this in columns for NBC, the World Economic Forum, and Psychology Today. I’ve joined the board of Bring Change to Mind, founded by actress and activist Glenn Close, to end stigmas and discrimination around mental illness.

In one survey, only 10% of people said they’d feel comfortable discussing mental health with a current or prospective employer, according to mentalhelp.net. This has to change. Our workplaces, where people from different walks of life come together to achieve joint goals, can go a long way toward making mental health something perfectly natural to talk about, just like any other from of health.

Of course, business leaders can’t solve the mental health crisis, nor can we bring an end to all stress. But our efforts can go a long way. The more employers take action, the more strides we’ll make in reducing the problem, standing by our people, and strengthening our nation.

Ryan Bonnici is Chief Marketing Officer of G2.com, headquartered in Chicago. He serves as a board member of Bring Change to Mind.

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