Mental Illness at WorkAug 14, 2023
Team member mental health is an important, sensitive and timely topic. But it can be difficult to navigate as a leader because it is also a very heavy and extremely personal topic. In general, mental health issues intensified due to COVID and all the things that came along with that. From it, one positive did emerge, which is that there is now much less stigma associated with needing mental health care and support.
Let me start by clarifying: I’m not a mental health expert. Therefore, I highly encourage you to seek one if you need. And this episode isn’t about addressing anything specific. But it is about how mental illness at work is affecting work and what is happening in our businesses. People need to take time off, they need adjusted schedules, performances have declined, and more. It can be an overwhelming problem. So how do we marry the need to be sensitive and accommodating to the very real needs of our team members, while still meeting the needs of a growing business? Let’s examine this topic together.
“One of the biggest issues, in general, with management and mental health is that we still have rampant lack of self-awareness and lack of emotional acumen in people who lead.” – Kris Plachy
What You’ll Learn
- Brain health affecting mental health
- Buffering everywhere
- Self-awareness and emotional acumen
- Chasm creation
- Meeting the moment
- Rejecting resentment
- Know facts on accommodations
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Hey, so today I wanna have a conversation that, I don't know, might be a little bit more serious than some of the things that we've talked about in the past. But I think it's really prescient and important. So let's talk about team member mental health. Here we go.
So welcome to the Leadership Is Feminine Podcast. I'm Kris Plachy. I'm so glad you're here. If you are tuning in right now, you have great timing. The Lead for Women brand new program - it's a leadership training and advisement program for women - is available. And we are doing advanced registration for a very short time, which means to you, really incredible introductory pricing offer.
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For many of you who've been following me a long time, you know that this is my roots. I worked in a very aggressive startup culture, and I worked with executive leaders first, before I started working with entrepreneurs. And I get asked all the time, "What's available for us?" And so now I'm telling you it's available for you and I would love to invite you in and, um, start talking to you about how to be the visionary who is leading your division, your organization, your team. I'm super excited about it.
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Okay, so today I wanna talk to you about what I think is an incredibly important topic, which is team member mental health. Since Covid especially, this has been a really big systemic issue and I do not profess to be a mental health expert.
I will say right off the top that if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, manic behavior, any of the things that are much more clinical, I cannot suggest and advise you strongly enough to get therapeutic support. There is so much help now than there used to be. And of course, so much less stigma than there used to be. And I don't know anyone who doesn't know someone who is struggling with life depleting mental illness.
And so, I want us to be ginger with this topic, but I think we have to talk about it because it's affecting work and it's affecting what's happening at work. And I have some very strong ideas and recommendations for you, because I coach women through this every week it comes up. People need to take time off, they need to have adjusted schedules, they need to just leave, people can't handle their workload, their performances have plummeted. We've got really strong, lots and lots of cases of ADHD in adults. We have a huge problem in our society.
And I believe that the majority of the people who have a complaint or a challenge with their mental health right now, I believe it's legitimate. So how do we marry this real issue with the needs of a business to be productive?
So I'm gonna throw just some key ideas at you and hopefully a few of these will land. So, just giving these as suggestions, things to think about and what you can do for yourself as a leader of a business in a time when this is sort of uncharted.
So, I recently wrote an article that was titled, "Do Managers Impact Team Member Mental Health?" And I believe that they do. So I wanna first start just with, y'all, us, those of us in charge, and talk about what we need to consider as it relates to our role, in these moments and with these team members.
So first of all, Dr. Amen is someone that I started listening to over the summer or spring, I guess, and really enjoyed learning from him. I think he makes, just like everyone, there's some things he says that, I don't know, whatever. And then, there's some things he says that I think make a lot of sense. And the one thing he says is that we need to stop calling it mental health and we need to call it brain health. And ever since I heard him say that it has put this in a different perspective.
And so his whole point of view is that the brain is an organ. I don't think that's a point of view. It's a fact. And that, if we wanna know what's going on with the brain, we should look at it. So he does brain scans and he does all these things to see what blood flow looks like and all sorts of other elements that are way above my head. But mostly what came out of that for me was this idea that there's the brain and then there's the mind, right? And that the brain can be unhealthy, which then makes the mind be incompetent, incapable, or frazzled, or all the different things that we feel when it comes to our ability to think and process and be a part of the world.
What we know is, if we look at how much our world has changed over the last 25 years, social media is a rampant problem in terms of people's use and desire and need for buffering and hits of dopamine and all of the things that we all know are true. The comparison. I just pulled my professional profile. If you went to my Instagram profile, you'll see I'm not there anymore. I have a personal profile. I connect with people there that I love, that I know, and I'm just, I am weaning myself off of being on social media.
I am now present on LinkedIn because I wanna share ideas and content. I don't really have any interest in sharing my personality and my personal preference. If you like me, that's great, but I wanna help you be better at what you do. I don't really want you to work with me 'cause you wanna get to know what my family is like. It's just not my jam. But that's a real issue.
We know that there's a huge drug problem and people are overusing all sorts of drugs, all sorts of ways to buffer. And then we also know with Covid, we just went through massive social restructuring and people are afraid, and people have adjusted to living alone. And some people went the other way. And so we just have really gone through it, y'all, and we still are.
What Amen talks about is that we have to get the brain healthy. So as a leader, I'm giving you this for yourself, because I coach women all the time who are also suffering with depression and anxiety, and in some cases debilitatingly, and they need to get support. They need clinical intervention. So if that's you, I just want to tell you, you're not alone. Okay? Okay.
So, that aside, then what we have to look at is, what is it like to go to work right now? And what do we know now, as leaders - especially if you run your own business - that we didn't know several years ago? And we do know that people have shorter attention spans, and we do know that a lot of people prefer to work from home. And we do know that there's an increased amount of anxiety and depression and all sorts of other things that are going on. We know this. We can stay in resistance to it as leaders and be mad at it and put our foot down and say, "Get over it. Suck it up buttercup. Time to put your big girl panties on."
Listen, if I've heard it, I've heard it. I'm sure you all have too. And you can take that approach. I'm not gonna tell you you're wrong. I'm just gonna tell you, you might be yelling a little bit at the wind. The world of work is changing. Look at the unionization that are happening. Look at the strikes that are happening. We have a real issue, and I've addressed this in the past, that if minimum wage had kept up, We should be paying people $25 an hour. I mean, we have a real problem.
It's not unfixable. But I think our old and antiquated approaches to telling people to get over themselves, it's not working. So if that's true, then what do we have to look at first? And I believe as leaders, we go first. I think that if we want to help create cultures that are healthy, and we wanna attract employees who are healthy or are working to be healthy, then we have to reevaluate the entire system that we're currently using to invite, engage, manage people.
And one of the biggest issues, in general, with management and mental health is that we still have rampant lack of self-awareness and lack of emotional acumen in people who lead. And so people who lead who don't understand how what they think about is what comes out of their mouth, and how they feel shows up in their behavior.
I believe we have a lot of people in leadership who are incredibly irresponsible and do not know how to emotionally regulate. And so you put that together with people who are also struggling. And we have two parallel lines that are never gonna cross and they're never gonna come together. And so I am a firm belief that if you raise your hand to be in a leadership role, I do not believe you have the responsibility to become a mental health expert. But I do believe you have a responsibility to become a 'self-awareness of yourself' expert. And I believe that you need to stop pointing a finger at everybody else who's got problems and start looking at how you wanna decide to be in this environment.
You know, one of the things that I find so ironic is, you know, we have, a lot of people will complain about the entitlement of team members, right? "How dare they think they can have three-day work weeks? How dare they think they should already be promoted, and they've been here a minute. How dare they think they should have a raise already." Right? And they get very indignant and irritated, and it's a common issue right now. I'm sure you've all experienced that.
Again, a host of reasons why that's probably happening. But nonetheless, I find it ironic that those very same leaders are so angry at the employees for acting that way, and yet they do nothing to invest in themselves as leaders to learn how to be better at navigating that. If you've had more than one employee ask you for a specialness of some sort, a special work schedule, a special way of getting paid, a special, whatever, if you've had that and all you've done is gotten mad about it, and you haven't used that as evidence for opportunity for you to learn, you're creating a chasm between you and your team.
Because there is an opportunity here for you to learn. That doesn't mean you give in, it doesn't mean everybody gets whatever they want. That's where your brain thinks it goes. That's not true. I mean, I talk to people all day, every day. There's amazing people out there who wanna work really hard and wanna be rewarded for their work. If you have a collective thought that people have turned into lazy whatevers, you have a problem, but it's not them that's the problem. It's you.
If your workforce, if the people that you hire are echoing the same challenges repeatedly, and you've done nothing to improve your skill, you're not meeting the moment. And that will continue to be a detriment. Because the leaders who figure out how to meet this moment and work with the talent that they have and advance the business that they want, they're gonna be the leaders that are attractive to work for.
Those are gonna be the cultures that top talent is gonna go work with. Because what you need to know is that top talent, people who are high performers, are gonna be the most challenging people you ever manage. You want top talent, you better be a top leader. But a lot of leaders think they should just get top talent. No, especially not now. When they can be so selective.
What is the unemployment rate? It's the lowest it's been - I don't even know - 4%. You can be sure people are very picky. And if they get in there and work for you for a couple weeks and they're like, "Oh hell no", they're leaving. So you've gotta, I mean, you don't have to do anything, but I'm advising you to pay attention.
So we have a systemic problem with mental health. As a leader, you have so much more agency over how you interact with people. You first have to understand yourself. You have to understand, you have to gain self-awareness. What is it that triggers you? What are those words that you're saying? How are you reacting when people make mistakes?
When people ask you for stuff you don't think they should be asking for, what is your behavior? Are you amplifying problems or are you actually helping to solve them? Just because people have mental health issues doesn't mean you have to give everybody super specialness, but what you have to do is make the agreements clear. But you're making all these assumptions about what you think employees should know. They don't know, especially if you hire younger people.
So I did a podcast a few weeks ago on mentorship, which is included in our Lead program, because I really think we have to change the way we think about who we are to our team members. And I think there's a lot of leaders right now who resent that. They resent having to be the one who teaches these younger people how to be employees. And you can resent it all you want, or you can lean in and curate incredible team members, but you have to understand the mechanics of performance and foundations. You have to understand that and you have to be willing to transform as a leader, and then you have to have systems in place.
Because if someone comes to you and says, I have a mental illness. I have ADHD. I have crippling anxiety. I have, whatever- Your state or country, depending on where you are, province, has policies that govern that. We actually had an attorney come in and talk to our clients a while ago about this because it was such a big issue. It still is. What I thought was really interesting is just because someone tells you they have a mental illness does not mean you have to adjust anything. But if they bring you a doctor's note, then you have to be more thoughtful.
So these are the things you need to know. A while ago I did, the people you've gotta have on standby, an employment attorney is one of them. If you don't have someone you can call, pay $250 or $500 for an hour of their time, you need one. Because I think there's a lot of you who are feeling quite hamstrung by what people are telling you. "Oh, I have ADHD, it's really hard for me to focus." They're telling you this stuff, but there's no diagnosis. So you're making all sorts of premature accommodations, and I think we need both sides here.
We need clear accountability for everyone. We need leaders to manage how they're interacting with people and understanding the nuances of today and adjusting and transforming how they lead. And we also need employees to understand that just because you're feeling a little freaked out doesn't necessarily mean you have an anxiety diagnosis.
And if you're gonna use those words, ADHD, anxiety, depression, whatever else people say they have, that's fine. Like, I'm sorry to hear that you're struggling. In order for me to make accommodation in this organization for you, we need a diagnosis. And I want you to go to your attorney and I want you to vet that.
Because that's part of why there's a lot of resentment from leaders right now is people are using these terms and you immediately think you have to accommodate, or they immediately think you have to accommodate. I think you need a process for accommodation. You need to know even if the size of business that you have has to provide it. So you've gotta know the facts love, right? All of us do.
Don't just get mad about it. Don't just get irritated about it. Don't just get freaked out by it. Have a process. This is how we're gonna handle when somebody brings anything like this to our attention, especially if it's being used as a reason for poor performance. Because even people who have mental illness, who have a job, have to perform.
It's okay to have clear agreements, but what I hope you're hearing me say is how we position those agreements and how we do that cannot be born out of our emotional trigger. It has to be created, fostered, ahead of time, so that when we have that come to us, we go into our business brain and we get the policy or the process that we already created to sustain it, to handle it, to deal with it. We don't rely on ourselves whose back is up against the wall because she's freaked out that she's not gonna hit her goals this year.
So there is a way to navigate this as a leader and as a manager, to do so properly so that you protect yourself, you mitigate risk for the organization, and we do what's the best thing we can for the team member.
So just because someone says they're struggling with some mental health problems doesn't mean everything stops, and it also doesn't mean they're taking advantage of you. And it also doesn't mean that's who everybody is. It just means that you, as a leader, are being invited to advance your skill, to set up a more robust system, so that you and your fellow managers - if you have people who work for you, who manage - are not going through the paces every time, so that the team understands what will happen with that kind of either proclamation or confirmation of diagnosis. And then we build plans from there.
And this is so much of what I always do with my clients in advisories. Like, okay, here's where I am with this team member. Here's what I'm thinking. And we vet the idea. And the best news is, you know, my team and I have been doing this collectively for a lot of years. There's nothing you're gonna tell us that we're not surprised by, or that we are surprised by. I promise you.
Sometimes I will laugh, like, "Okay, that's a good one". But I know that there's just all sorts of things that happen at work that we need to figure out, but your brain and your understanding of yourself has to come first. Because if you're just letting yourself flop in the wind with what happens with your team, that's why you're in turmoil and frustration all the time.
You don't have to feel like that. So there are things you can do when you're struggling and dealing with someone on the team who is struggling, and sometimes the best solution is they don't work for you anymore. Sometimes the best solution is you pay them to leave. Sometimes the best solution is they take a leave of absence. Sometimes the best solution is you ask them to confirm a diagnosis before you make any accommodation, and they can't do it. But we can't be afraid of it.
But if you haven't invited yourself as a leader to step up and learn more about yourself and you're afraid of it or you resent it or you're angry about it, that's influencing how you handle these moments. And I think that's to your detriment. I think you can be graceful here and kind and still have clear expectations. I think all of that can exist quite beautifully once we get our own trigger mess out of the way, 'cause we all have 'em.
Okay, so give this some thought, because if you're struggling with this kind of a situation right now, I hope I've given you some clear steps. There's you, what are you making all this mean? Then, there's what's our process and who do I need to talk to have one. And then, what am I gonna do as it relates to this person's role, the agreements of the position, and how do I help them fulfill on that promise if I can?
Better yet, just hop into Lead and let's get started working together. 'Cause I know this is something that we could help you solve very quickly. Okay. All right. Thanks for tuning in today. We'll talk to you next time.
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