Mental Health at Work (psst…It’s Important!)

by | Articles, Leadership, Wellness | 0 comments

Simone Biles

I am going to take a chance here, and guess that you have some thoughts about Simone’s recent decision to withdraw from Olympic competition. Apparently, a lot of people do. It warms my heart to see the outpouring of supportive messages for Simone coming from people who hold power and influence in our society. In the same breath, it breaks my heart to see the hateful reactions to Simone’s choice to prioritize her health over all else. You see, mental health IS health, period. Let me say that again, in bold, and italic, front and center…

Mental health IS health. 

To perform at the highest level in anything, our minds must be firing on all cylinders. Simone Biles, one of the most incredible professional athletes of all time, understands this. Why don’t we all? 

Our health is a key ingredient to optimal performance. Full stop.

This is true in sport, in which the pursuit of excellence is primarily physical. This is also true in business. In our knowledge economy, where success depends largely on how well our minds are working, this truth should really be more of a no-brainer.* So why do we get tripped up in believing that our health matters in Corporate America? 

As with anything, the answer is complicated. With that said, the resistance that I sense in my work with leaders is that there isn’t any space to address our health in business. As the corporate system is currently set up, I believe that this is true. Most people who hold power in Corporate America do not have the skills to address the whole person in their interactions with the people they lead. Today, I would like to suggest three simple steps with which you can experiment to better embody a truly whole-person approach to leading people (and therefore business).

Step 1. Stop asking, “How are you?” 

If your idea of taking a whole person approach to leadership is to ask your people “how are you doing?,” then you are wrong. This question is highly likely to trigger a response of “fine” which loosely translates into Feelings Inside Not Expressed. I have worked with leaders who have told me that they were F.I.N.E. while simultaneously navigating divorce, processing a cancer diagnosis, or grieving the loss of a family member due to suicide. Moi, a professional coach who works incredibly close with leaders in business and builds trusting relationships for a living, has been intentionally kept in the dark from these deeply human struggles. Imagine what your people may be experiencing on the inside that they are not expressing to you, when your primary role in the relationship is to run a business! Please stop asking people how they are doing since the answer isn’t likely to surface the truth.

Step 2. Start asking, “What does your life look like for you right now?”

Notice the simple shift in language that yields a totally different response. F.I.N.E. just won’t cut it here. Instead, responders will be nudged to share a snapshot of what is actually going on in their lives with you. It is true that the first response will probably be heavily weighted with work-related details. That’s OK, as any response other than F.I.N.E. is a step in the right direction. This is where your coaching skills as a people leader will come into play. If the first response to asking this question sounds like a project status update, use the opportunity to redirect by saying something like, “I appreciate the updates, and we will definitely get to those. But first, help me to understand what your life outside of work looks like for you right now. I want to know, because I care about you.”

Step 3. Adopt 2 magical words into your vocabulary, “I care.”

By simply acknowledging the fact that you care about your people, you will help to create the safe environment that is necessary to start normalizing conversations in business about health. Go ahead, tell a colleague or two this week that you care about them. Then, come back here and drop a comment below letting us know how that conversation went. Seriously, we’d love to know! 

The only way to 10X your positive impact as a business leader is to meet the needs and dreams of your people. The only way to meet the needs and dreams of your people is to see and treat them as the whole, complex human beings that they are. The first step in seeing and treating your people as whole, complex human beings is to acknowledge the volatility of the human experience. To start that process, show that you care by asking your people to let you peek into what is actually going on in their minds. From there, you will be in a much better position to help them to live into their greatness. 


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