How Executives Like Me Can Revolutionize Workplace Mental Health

By Ryan Bonnici

For all the talk in recent years about the need to improve mental health efforts in the workplace, with CEOs at the World Economic Forum in Davos calling for action, things are still getting worse.

New figures show that Americans are feeling more stressed, worried, and angry. In a recently released survey, more than half (55%) reported feeling stress during a lot of the day, 45% said they worried a lot, and 22% said they "felt anger a lot," Gallup reports. The United States is, according to Gallup's poll, one of the most stressed nations in the world.

What's making Americans so stressed? In numerous surveys, work "tops the list," according to WebMD. The American Institute of Stress reports that studies show "job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades." In fact, "nearly two-thirds of professionals say their stress levels at work are higher than they were five years ago," a Korn Ferry survey found.

While some types of stress are considered good, experiencing a lot of stress at work is a risk factor for developing an anxiety disorder, the Mayo Clinic explains. Almost 20% of U.S. adults have an anxiety disorder in any given year, and more than 30% experience one in their lifetime. About 7% have a major depressive episode.

As an executive for a tech company,, I know how stressful the workplace can get. I also know how it can contribute to mental health struggles -- as it did for me. It took me years to realize and accept some of my own issues and, more importantly, to do something about it.

Now, I've seen what a big difference executives like me can make in the workplace.

Putting therapy on the calendar

Lots of good columns have called for businesses to make sure people have insurance coverage for mental health and opportunities to de-stress. And they've rightfully called on leaders to set an example by being open about their own mental health.

I've taken that a step further. My weekly therapy sessions are now listed as public on my work calendar, for all my colleagues to see. This helps normalize not only the need to take care of one's mental health but also to take time during the workday to do so. It's clear to my staff that I still get my work done, and that I expect the same from them. If it works best for them to take time for their mental health during the day and catch up on work at other hours, I support that.

More and more colleagues have come to me to open up about their stories. They know I won't judge them.

Reaching out beyond the organization

Even when workplaces become safe spaces for people to discuss mental health, many people are still afraid to discuss these issues in professional spaces outside of the organization. After all, they may want to be hired elsewhere someday and don't want to face the powerful stigmas that can hamper careers.

I respect this and keep everyone's confidence. But I've chosen to take another step, by sharing my mental health journey in a very public way. I've written columns about it, including one for NBC.

I also discuss it on LinkedIn and at professional events around the world. I want everyone to see that there's no shame in it. Being an executive who gets invited to such events gives me a platform, and I want to use it well.

That's also why I became a board member of Bring Change to Mind, an organization founded and led by Glenn Close to help end stigmas around mental illness.

Getting employees the information they need

But while it's easy to get caught up in some of these big ideas about mental health, some keys to reducing stress in the workplace involve more mundane, day-to-day actions.

A new study says workers are feeling stressed because their bosses aren't giving them enough information to get their jobs done. "The study found that 80 percent of the workers reported feeling stressed, or under pressure, because of poor communication by their employers," the Voice of America reports.

It's important for executives to follow all the latest research around workplace trends. We must ask ourselves how we're contributing to the problem in ways we might not realize.

Of course, stress isn't exclusively about work, and there are all kinds of steps people can take in their own lives to help improve their mental and emotional well-being. But leaders have a responsibility to do our part. The more we take that responsibility seriously, the more successful our businesses -- and, most importantly, our people -- will become.

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