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CEO Strategies for Retention: Promoting Mental Health Balance

By Jill Christie, President, Tuft & Associates, Inc.

It’s a new era for mental health awareness in the workplace. Post-pandemic, there is even greater focus on how workplace culture contributes to supporting employees in maintaining good mental health.

Candidates at all levels are not afraid to talk about the importance of work/life balance, respecting family obligations, and maintaining good mental health and well-being. Increasingly, these are must-have factors that confirm or cancel candidate interest in a new employer. In turn, we are seeing more and more organizations recognize the value of being open and proactive in supporting work force mental health and well-being for more positive and productive environments.

To explore how work culture is changing to promote mental health balance, we reached out to three of our CEO client colleagues to share some of their concrete and creative ways to bring about meaningful change in workplace culture.

Be open about the value of self-care. At the American Cleft Palate Craniofacial Association, Executive Director Adam Levy talks openly with his team about taking care of themselves and their families first. He makes it known that their culture is “not about breaking their backs,” but rather being healthy enough mentally and physically to do the mission-driven work they set out to accomplish. “If we can provide space for someone to work through a personal issue, and come back to work feeling ready to go, that is far more impactful for both the individual and our organization.”

Open a caring space to talk. Initiate conversations about the importance of mental health with all staff and individually—and back up your words with concrete support—to send a message to staff that they are genuinely valued. At the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) which supports nurses, and ultimately, children, CEO Sheri Sesay-Tuffour reinforces the organization’s deep connection to the importance of mental wellness by undertaking a thoughtful, targeted approach to assisting staff, with authenticity and without stigma.

Equip supervisors to be comfortable about mental health topics. Supervisors must know about mental health resources within and beyond your organization, says Sesay-Tufour. Encourage them to infuse wellness in a variety of ways, such as starting team meetings or one-on-ones with a human touchpoint, not a task list. Encourage all staff to support one another. Remember that not all staff will feel comfortable confiding in a supervisor.

Engage staff in wellness learning opportunities. Each week at the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, a different employee facilitates staff meetings, ending with a wellness learning opportunity or activity to reduce stress and foster better balance. Executive Director Bob Moore reports, “While maintaining good mental health and well-being is very personal, gaining 50 or so new ideas throughout the year is very helpful to all of us.”

Promote Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) This is one of the most readily available—but often forgotten—employee resources, says Moore. It’s important to remind employees about the availability and scope of EAP. Some plans offer coverage and access to mental health providers, volunteer days, stipends to cover exercise-related expenses, and inclusive policies on equitable work environments (home offices) to care for family.

Offer tangible employee benefits specific to emotional well-being. Bring in an expert to speak on a topic or offer an interactive workshop. Offer rewards and recognition. Use CliftonStrengths Assessment to bolster morale and self-awareness for each employee. Explore team dynamics with a consultant. Consider flexible work schedules. Reinforce kindness and respect as core values, says Sesay-Tufour. Celebrate the diversity of your teams.

Mental health shouldn’t be political or polarizing, says Levy. Therapy, self-care, exercise, and personal space are among the many wellness concepts all leaders should be informed about and embrace.

In our experience, organizations that put more effort into supporting employee mental (and physical) health and well-being have greater staff engagement, commitment, and productivity. Enlightened and supportive employers also gain real advantages to attract the best and brightest when it’s time for future executive and management searches.