Mental Health in the Workplace: Why Leaders Need to Lead from the Front

By Sean Flavin October 28th, 2020

A few weeks ago, we observed World Mental Health Day. In a typical year, the occasion is an important opportunity to raise awareness of mental health issues and mobilize efforts to improve mental health. As we all know, 2020 has not been a typical year. World Mental Health Day — and focusing on mental health in general — is more important than ever this year with the additional hardships and stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we've covered before in this blog, mental health issues don't occur in a vacuum, and those suffering often don't have the option to keep issues confined to non-work hours. So, while mental health in the workplace is an incredibly vital topic to address right now, it's one that companies who value safety and health should continue focusing on even when the pandemic subsides.

To keep this extremely important conversation going, Captive Resources (CRI) invited Ryan Gallik and Michael L. Stahl, co-founders of the Mental Hygiene Project, to participate in our weekly Risk Control Webinar Series. In this post, we'll touch on a couple of crucial points from their presentation — namely, the importance of supporting mental health in the workplace and what organizational leaders need to do to take an active role in this effort.

The Importance of Mental Health in the Workplace

Researchers say that increasing investment toward mental health in the workplace is good for both employees’ well-being and a company’s bottom line. Here are a few numbers that Gallik and Stahl shared to back up that claim:

  • One in five U.S. adults — roughly 44 million people — will experience a mental illness in a given year (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
  • Depression costs employers an estimated $4 billion each year in lost productivity (American Psychiatric Association).
  • Eighty percent of employees stated that workplace stress affected their personal relationships (Mental Health America).

Given the mounting costs, improving mental health in the workplace seems like a no-brainer for any company — especially those focused on safety and well-being like group captive members. So, the question becomes, how does a company go about improving mental health? Gallik and Stahl posit the answer starts with company leaders.

How Leaders Can Support Mental Health in the Workplace

There are no quick fixes when it comes to creating positive mental health in the workplace.

“The only way to change the flow and direction of any company — from a leadership perspective all the way to the front line — is to change the underlying structure of that organization,” Stahl said. “When it comes to mental health, leaders need to engage in changing that underlying structure of values.”

Here are a few tips Gallik and Stahl provided to help leaders promote mental health in the workplace.

Increase Your Awareness of Mental Health

According to Gallik and Stahl, fostering positive mental health in the workplace requires leaders to increase their awareness on the topic with actions like:

  • Becoming more aware of the human and financial impacts of mental health.
  • Learning more about mental health awareness, prevention, mitigation and treatment so you can educate and inspire your team members.
  • De-stigmatize conversations around mental health disorders.

Help Your Team Members Become More Resilient

Resiliency is an invaluable asset when it comes to mental health in the workplace. It’s the difference between an employee who complains when confronted with misfortune and a mentally strong team member who approaches each situation with a positive outlook and perseveres to overcome adversity.

To encourage resilient employees, Gallik and Stahl urged leaders to:

  • Lead from the front and be active role-models when supporting team members' mental health and wellness.
  • Create a plan that involves training and development, active dialogue, and regular mental health check-ins for both individuals and the organization.
  • Promote a culture that encourages employees to take responsibility for their mental health and to speak up when they need help.

Help Your Employees Find Their Purpose

To Gallik and Stahl, purpose is a powerful motivator and driver of positive mental health for employees. Here are a few tips for leaders to help team members find their purpose at work:

  • Conduct focus groups and one-on-one meetings to help your team members identify what they’re passionate about.
  • Provide resources for consistent learning and growth, even in areas not specifically related to one’s job or role.
  • Create groups or sponsored activities away from the office that offer the opportunity for human connection and the ability for you to learn what motivates your team members.

About the Mental Hygiene Project

The recap above is just a brief overview of the presentation from Gallik and Stahl. In the full webinar, the pair leaned on their experience running the Mental Hygiene Project to take a much deeper dive and provide group captive member-companies a better idea of how to promote mental health in the workplace. To learn more about how the Mental Health Project and their programs that focus on leading for positive mental health, visit:

About the Webinar

This presentation was part of CRI’s Risk Control Webinar Series — weekly installments of webinars to educate the group captive members we work with on topics like workplace safety, organizational leadership, and company performance. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these webinars are those of the presenters and do not necessarily reflect CRI’s positions on any of the above topics.

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