A Blueprint for Prioritizing Mental Health at Work

Five ways Struck is approaching a critical issue

To kick off the month of October, Struck took a pause. We established two "Mental Health Fridays" on Oct. 1 and Oct. 29 to give our teams a break, a chance to genuinely disconnect and do whatever they need to do to reset. Our leadership partners vowed long ago to do better by people and, in doing so, we reframed our employee experience as a human experience. Because you know what? Each person on our team deserves it.

A company's culture should support mental health—and 86 percent of respondents to a joint study on the prevalence of mental health challenges and stigma in the U.S. agreed before the pandemic. The reckoning of the pandemic and social justice movements has forced companies and people to finally address mental health head on.

Unhealthy work environments are petri dishes for mental illness. We've all heard sad and disturbing stories about agency life where demoralizing, mercurial managers are running people ragged with ridiculously long hours and unreasonable demands. Even worse are stories of pervasive discrimination or lack of inclusivity. Looking at it from this lens, a staggering 63 percent of marketers and advertisers are considering a career change, according to the Rosie Report. What does it say about our field that more than half of our professionals want out?

At Struck, our commitment to employee satisfaction and wellness runs deep. For me, it's personal. Growing up, I saw and felt firsthand the effect mental illness can have on families at home. The silence, secrecy and stigma that swelled around the topic were unbearable, not to mention watching my mother endure a pain I didn't understand. I'll be damned if I let our workplace be the source of someone's unwellness. 

Where does an agency even start?

There are fundamental shifts that agencies and individual managers of people can do to help your teams feel safe, connected and empowered to manage their mental health. It starts with acknowledging the humanity of the people with whom you work.

Below are some human-minded approaches that we have taken at Struck that you can use to address mental wellness in the workplace and position your teams for success in the near and long term.

Embed mental health into your organizational strategy and culture. 

One easy way to start is to include it in your mission, vision and values. Make employee well-being a key performance indicator for leadership. Measure it. Act on it.

At Struck, our mission is to help people and organizations thrive. We have five core values that are paralleled by five KPIs. Mental health is associated with our "Empathy" value and our "Employee Engagement" KPI. With this north star, our teams are empowered to craft programs that will benefit employees and make a difference.

This is particularly important to developing a strong resource management process. In our case, we proactively create staffing plans that avoid long hours and work overload. It's not a perfect science, but we are continually working toward quality of life over quantity of outputs. Additionally, we reward and celebrate our team members for contributions and outcomes aligned with our agency's values to reinforce what's really important to our organization—our people.

Take stock of your team's mental state.

Don't skip one-on-one meetings with individuals on your team. These essential conversations give you insight into how a person is feeling about their work load, performance, personal life and where it all intersects. Simply showing up is step one. Listening to understand, asking questions and making an effort to help where you can are the steps that lead to a person feeling heard and valued. I highly recommend this 1:1 framework from Nobl Design to get you started. 

At the organizational level, conduct pulse surveys to gauge employee engagement and wellbeing. In 2020, our HR team at Struck conducted two well-being surveys that helped to inform how we needed to lead during global shutdowns and social unrest. We have since implemented a bimonthly employee-satisfaction survey through our HR platform, Bamboo HR. We actively track the mood of the organization and our performance through quarterly surveys and open discussions. Then, we roll that feedback and progress up to annual performance goals. We share the metrics and results to hold ourselves accountable to our team.

Talk about mental health. 

Everyone is susceptible to experiencing depression, grief, anxiety and fear. These are each different forms of mental illness. Leaders must lay a foundation for people to be open about their struggles. No, managers are not therapists. However, you have to take into account how a person's mental state affects their ability to focus and collaborate. You also have a powerful opportunity to help reduce the stigma of mental illness and make the workplace a safe space for conversations about it. This may be done in a one-on-one setting, or you can discuss it openly when making institutional decisions like "Mental Health Days." 

Perhaps the most impactful way to help your teams be open about what they're going through is to simply acknowledge how you have been personally affected or have supported friends and family through similar experiences. You don't have to make it the center of the conversation or try to fix or compare situations, but acknowledge that it is OK to feel that way and be open about it at work. 

I often use my weekly email address to the Struck team as a platform for sharing challenges I have faced during the week or in relation to the current cultural climate. This platform allows me to address the collective mood of the team, lessons learned and areas where I or other team members need help. When circumstances call for it, I have used this communication method as a bridge to point to our mental health platform.

We also have a Slack #wellbeing channel in which anyone can post resources and inspiration. Overwhelmingly, team members have delivered feedback that it's reassuring to hear someone talk about subjects that may otherwise seem taboo. It can be that simple.

Make help accessible to your teams. 

Last year, Struck adopted The Mind Solution, a mental health platform that empowers employees to anonymously learn wellness and resiliency strategies that help them cope quickly and effectively with many common workplace challenges. Additionally, our agency participated in the Made of Millions Foundation's beta training program designed to help destigmatize mental health and train agency professionals on how they can help. 

Beyond training, employers can structure their employee healthcare benefits to include access to resources. At Struck, we make sure that the plan covers in-network therapy and 80 percent of the employee's premium so that healthcare is not a burden for our team members. 

Ask for help.

Leaders, this is especially pertinent for you! Remember the adage that to care for others, one must care for oneself first. Self-care is a sacred duty—and sometimes you've got to ask for help to do it.

Harvard Business Review recently reported that nearly 40 percent of male and nearly 50 percent of female leaders report burnout. Would you count yourself among this group? Imagine how burnout affects the way you show up and set an example for your teams.

Earlier this year, Brené Brown dedicated two full podcast episodes to exploring "Armored vs. Daring Leadership" and a Struck team member shared it with me, expressing gratitude that our leadership team consistently demonstrates many of the leadership traits discussed.

Reaching out and letting someone know you need help takes courage and vulnerability. It can be uncomfortable, but inviting someone to share the load with you is the only way to lighten it. Teams, after all, are about collaboration, and that often requires difficult conversations. Admitting that you need a hand with a project or some time off to mentally reset is OK. Doing so may give others the confidence and opportunity to do the same when they need it. So, be brave and speak up.

No matter where your agency is in its employee empowerment and wellness journey, taking the first step, followed by incremental supporting steps toward continued improvement, is the only way to create a stronger, more sustainable and healthy industry for the brilliant creative humans that make our work possible. 

Oct. 3-9 is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Learn more about how you can raise awareness of mental illness, fight discrimination and provide support​​ via the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.

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