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Employees want employers to support their mental health, and really, is that too much to ask? We spend one third of our adult lives working. Most workplaces are rife with stressors — and let’s be honest, they always will be, no matter how many supportive programs and policies your company offers. But it’s up to leaders to make it okay for people to ask for help when they need it.
On the latest episode of Chief’s podcast, "The New Rules of Business," Co-Founders Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan talk to Amy Gilliland, President of General Dynamics Information Technology, about why executives need to make the first move in employee well-being at work. As someone who works in the male-dominated defense industry, Gilliland saw first-hand how ignoring mental health in the workplace impacted her company’s culture, leading her to take immediate action to fix it.
"As a company we were noticing that people were languishing. They were struggling. The emotional fatigue was real and you could see it on their faces," she says. "So we went out and looked at some of the statistics. Twenty percent of adults struggle with mental health issues in any given year. Half of those adults don’t seek support. Seventy percent of adults say that their children — as a result of the pandemic — were dealing with mental struggles. Veterans, which represent a huge part of my workforce — 25% to 30% — have a higher rate of suicide… So there's a real issue here and it became apparent that we needed, as an employer, to be a part of the safety net."
In response, Gilliland launched a company-wide campaign called "How are you, really?" to not only encourage mental health discussions at work, but to also provide resources for how employees and leaders can begin these conversations. "Our goal was really to take the stigma away from mental health challenges and make it okay for employees to say, 'Hey, I'm not okay right now.'"
For leaders who feel stuck or unsure about how to discuss employee well-being at work, Gililland makes it clear that doing nothing is far from a solution, as 87% of employees say that actions from their employer would help their mental health.
"Employees want to be seen. They want to be heard," says Gilliland. "And those performance conversations that people are used to having once a quarter or once a year don't suffice. Really check in and just say, 'Hey, is there anything you need?' It's that simple. And when that becomes custom for every meeting, it starts to become part of the culture and inculcated in the fabric of the company. And ultimately, that is also good for business. We want to drive that kind of empathy and compassion together with accountability. Yes, you have to perform your job, but we care about you and how you're doing too."