Executive Chairman of 369 Global Inc. and CEO of Computek College.
If you meet a young person today and begin speaking to them about mental health, it’s likely that they will transparently share their personal healing and need for balance, rest, therapy and a focus on wellness. I’m sure many of us in later stages of our careers have had this experience and found it both fascinating and enlightening.
The generational differences between men who are today in senior executive positions and those starting out in their careers as part of the “healing generation” or “Gen Well” can be staggering. Most established leaders were not raised to put health and wellness first but are leading much of corporate North America. There is still a certain amount of discomfort around the concept of mental health struggles and related dialogue in the business world. While the global pandemic certainly shed light on the severity and complexity of mental health issues and suicide rates, there is still a very long way to go. In my experience, this is especially true as it relates to resources and support for men’s mental health.
While we often hear the startling statistic that it will take more than 130 years to reach gender parity, according to The World Economic Forum, and that there are more CEOs named Michael and James than women CEOs (paywall) in the S&P 500 companies—both gravely concerning issues—it is equally concerning that many leaders at the helm of the most successful companies in the world who are responsible for true bottom line returns and really, the state of global financial markets, still may not have easy access to mental health support when they need it most.
At the root of it, like many of the most challenging global issues for us to solve, we are working to transform thinking and behaviors that have become widely accepted as the norm only because they have been in place for most of history. In many traditional workplaces, there is a culture of toughness associated with masculinity. Men are often expected to be strong, stoic and unemotional regardless of the scenario. This can make it difficult for men to talk about their feelings and seek help for mental health issues. Other barriers include job insecurity in high-pressure, competitive industries, especially in the midst of ongoing economic uncertainty. There is fear of punitive action for working shorter days or even taking time off.
I’ve always been passionate about the need for advocacy and funding when it comes to supporting men’s mental health in business. There is no one size fits all fix to the men’s mental health situation in corporate North America—and in Canada, the economic burden of mental illness is more than $50 billion, according to CAMH.
Creating cultures that encourage employees to feel comfortable talking about mental health and seeking help if needed is critical to the success of all businesses and their employees. Employees with positive mental health are likely to be more productive and engaged in their work, which can lead to higher levels of efficiency and profitability for companies. A positive work culture that values mental health can also be a key factor in attracting and retaining top talent, improving employee retention, and reducing healthcare costs associated with mental health issues.
These are my top tips and strategies for making mental health a priority in the workplace while removing stigma and encouraging critical conversations:
• Introduce or remind employees of their existing personal days and provide reassurance that they should take these days as needed to rest, re-charge and reset, touching on the importance of positive mental health. Further to this, lead by example by showing that senior management also takes time off.
• Reinforce that office and business hour boundaries are okay to reduce pressure to work around the clock.
• Ask employees which corporate-social responsibility (CSR) causes they are most passionate about and donate to or get involved with those team values most to show that their voices and opinions matter.
• Routinely remind employees about mental health resources and support that are part of their benefits package.
• Check in at all levels and collectively as a management team to assess resources, workload, engagement and morale. A big part of this is also checking in with employees one-on-one in a less structured environment to find out how they are actually doing in work and life.
While the return is indisputable, we are simply not there yet and need to drive change from the top down as business leaders. I encourage any readers interested in supporting this critical issue or advocacy projects to reach out to me directly to learn more and collaborate to reduce stigma when it comes to men’s mental health.
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