May is Mental Health Awareness month and a great time to learn more about the importance of mental health in the workplace. We talked to our friend Denise Bjurholm, Executive Director of the Pinellas County Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about this issue. She shared some important information about the organization, trends, and actions companies can take to improve mental health wellness, which is summarized in this post.
What is NAMI?
NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. The organization has more than 600 NAMI Affiliates across the country along with 49 NAMI State Organizations and national NAMI headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. NAMI educates by providing programs in thousands of communities across the United States and advocates to shape national public policy.
Execs In The Know (EITK): What trends are you seeing when it comes to mental health wellness within the workplace?
Denise Bjurholm: One of the major trends is the pivot back to working in an office or at least a hybrid model that requires employees to come to the office on a regular schedule. This return to the office is creating a new set of stressors, including uncertainty about changes in the day-to-day activities of the job, insecurity about job retention, and pressure to keep up with family duties and outside responsibilities while in the workplace.
EITK: How might these trends specifically impact the customer experience (CX) space?
Denise: This trend takes a toll on behavior, attitudes, and productivity, particularly for those in dynamic work environments like CX teams where employees are measured regularly and frequently on performance standards. The work pressure of interacting with customers and dealing with their problems can increase stress and exacerbate mental health issues.
EITK: For those folks managing frontline CX workers, often within a fast-paced, stressful environment, what are your top tips for creating and maintaining a healthy, positive workday?
Denise: The number one thing frontline managers can do is start the conversation about mental health wellness with their teams. Having regular check-in conversations that focus on how the employee is feeling and doing is a great way to begin. This conversation can start by simply asking “How are you doing?” and letting it develop from there. Managers should consider a having a discussion focused on the employee (and not the work) from time to time; this could be a scheduled monthly conversation or impromptu if the manager sees changes or struggles from an employee.
EITK: How can senior leadership best empower management to act?
Denise: Senior leaders can partner with HR to ensure that the company is prioritizing mental health wellness by offering things like educational opportunities, schedule flexibility, and mental health days as part of the paid-time-off benefit. They, too, can and should have conversations with their teams about the importance of mental health wellness.
EITK: What is the StigmaFree campaign, and what does a supportive StigmaFree company look like?
Denise: The StigmaFree campaign is NAMI’s effort to end stigma and create hope for those affected by mental illness. A supportive company can do the following to take on the responsibility for employee mental health well-being:
- Educate: Companies can provide ways for all employees to have the opportunity to educate themselves about mental health, including the warning signs of illness, suicide, and other conditions that may require intervention. Supportive companies also tap into resources available in the community and partner with those groups to support ongoing mental health education.
- Understand and Accept: By seeing the person and not the illness, supportive companies signal understanding and acceptance of mental health conditions. This helps reduce the fear that a diagnosis may impact others’ perceptions and actions in the workplace.
- Advocate: Supportive companies stand up for mental health wellness. Ensuring resources are readily available throughout the organization allows companies to take on the responsibility for their employees’ well-being and shows employees that the company cares and offers help.
EITK: Getting started is always the toughest part. For both professional individuals and companies, what are the first steps to making a big and positive impact on mental health well-being?
Denise: Start the conversation! NAMI’s theme is “Together for Mental Health,” and its goal is to increase understanding, awareness, and action on mental health issues, decreasing the stigma of the illness. As part of this work, NAMI encourages conversations about the importance of mentally healthy employees and programs that support mental well-being.
We are grateful for NAMI’s work and encourage you to get involved in this important issue. We hope you will find your local chapter or affiliate and start learning more today! You can also learn more about Execs In The Know’s involvement in this important topic and how to get more involved yourself here by visiting our Leading with Impact webpage