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The Development Exponent: A Leadership Perspective

Bruce Holoubek

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Supporting Mental Health Through Mutually Meaningful Work Engagements, with Michelle E. Dickinson

The United States is unique in many ways, but interestingly, one of those ways is that it is a bit behind when it comes to supporting mental health through the workplace. I speak often about the importance of creating mutually meaningful work engagements and there is no better context for that discussion than that of brain health. My guest on this episode is Michelle E Dickinson. She’s a mental health advocate who has walked a path through what she calls a “mental health trifecta” that has guided her to a place of support, encouragement, and training for those interested in making the workplace a more supportive place for those struggling with mental health issues. Sadly, mental health still carries a stigma in Western culture, one that can and should be eliminated through education, compassion, and trust. It’s my hope that you’ll continue reading to discover what is being done and can be done to help American corporations and organizations become better equipped to support employees when it comes to their mental health. Why is the United States behind other nations in supporting mental health in the workplace? Canada and Australia for example, are far ahead of the United States when it comes to workplace initiatives that not only support but provide for the mental health support of employees. These initiatives are part of the overall inclusion strategies of most companies and turn out to be much more than a simple employee benefit. They are aimed at making their employees more productive and fulfilled through better care for them as individual human beings. One of the reasons the United States is not as far along is that for years mental health issues have been an invisible disability, something that people suffering from mental health challenges are ashamed to share. Or, those supporting a family member with mental health issues often feel unable to reveal the issue for fear of embarrassing or shaming their family member. When organizational leaders bravely take the first step, talking about these issues from their own experience, it sets the stage for those within the organization to willingly open up about their struggles too. While it may seem strange for this to happen in a working environment, it is a key component to developing a culture of trust and inclusiveness where mutually meaningful work engagements are possible.  When business performance overshadows compassion, we get into trouble Companies are in business to make money and to provide valuable services to their clients or customers. Employee performance is a key factor in making those outcomes a reality. But today’s leaders are learning that a healthy company culture — which is the environment in which optimal performance happens — is vital to top performance for everyone within the organization. Company cultures that are unwilling to recognize the real-life struggles of their team members — like mental health issues — become self-defeating. The trust that is foundational for the development of high-performing teams simply can’t happen if an individual's life situations are ignored or unaddressed. Leaders must express care for the members of their team if the team as a whole is to thrive. I guess I’m talking about "compassion-first" leaders. Michelle says it this way, “When business performance trumps compassion, we get into trouble.” That is a leadership responsibility. Why leaders must learn to couple compassion with trust Put yourself in the following situation: You have a challenging life situation going on and it’s requiring such high levels of mental and emotional bandwidth that you are having a hard time keeping up with responsibilities at work. It’s probably not a stretch for most of us to imagine. We’ve probably been there. Now change the scenario slightly and imagine the issue you’re dealing with is a me

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