Gabe Howard of Psych Central spoke with Katrina Gay, Mental Health Advocate and former CDO at NAMI, and Alexandra von Plato, CEO of Publicis Health, about strategies for boosting mental health in the workplace.
Health media and marketing are at a turning point. The industry is reckoning with lessons learned from the pandemic, while looking ahead at exciting tech developments and cultural shifts.
This year’s The PHM HealthFront, on April 27-28, explored the industry’s most pressing opportunities and challenges. Corporate leaders, healthcare professionals, influencers, and other luminaries came together to share insights and ideas. With Publicis Health Media President Andrea Palmer at the helm, the 400-person event touched on a range of topics, including data ownership, AI and tech, sound and TV, as well as disinformation and the need for culturally relevant content.
Our participation in The PHM HealthFront focused on mental well-being in the workplace — a topic that’s taken on new urgency given pandemic burnout and anxiety over back-to-the-office plans.
Stepping Up to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace
Gabe Howard, host of the Inside Mental Health podcast at Psych Central, led a panel to discuss one of the key lessons learned the past two years: the importance of mental health awareness and support, especially when it comes to burnout at work.
Katrina Gay, Mental Health Advocate and former CDO at NAMI, and Alexandra von Plato, CEO of Publicis Health, joined the panel to share their insights on the questions at hand, including: what role do we have in shaping conversations around mental health? And how can company leadership do more to support positive mental health in the workplace?
As von Plato explained, “We hear about toxicity at work and burnout, but we don’t really think about how work can be a place for well-being, rejuvenation, and connection.”
Identifying Burnout’s Warning Signs
With burnout around work more widespread than ever, Howard asked the panelists to define the term — and help us understand the warning signs.
Von Plato explained that job-related stress has been exacerbated by the pandemic: “There’s been so much stress and anxiety as a result of having to weather uncertainty and anxiety.” She defines burnout as “The feeling of being always overwhelmed, never caught up, always behind. You become depleted, exhausted. And lots of people live with a low level of exhaustion.”
The dangers of burnout are clear: “At a certain point, you hit a wall and lose the ability to stabilize yourself and cope. We can help people identify the point where they might be risking their health and well-being.”
Gay agreed, saying we need to look for signs like irritability, exhaustion, and a drive for escape and relief, especially in those who are overwhelmed: “One of the situations we’ve encountered so much with the pandemic is that the lines between our work and our lives are so blurred. People who are caregiving for their family, they’re working around that, and there’s no break or separation.”
Easing Anxiety Over Back-to-Office Uncertainties
Howard said that a Healthline Media survey from March 2022 found that people were most stressed by unclear return-to-office policies. People who were encouraged to visit the office a few times per week, and people who were unsure of their employer’s policy, reported being more anxious and stressed than people who were simply required to be at the office.
Put simply, uncertainty is stressful! As Von Plato explained, “We all had to adjust to a new normal, a habit, a way of working, and we set our lives around that. Now we have this anticipatory stress that it’s going to change again and we don’t know what it’s going to change into.”
At her company, leadership is looking forward, not back: “I’ve told my team we’re not going back to the way it was, five days a week. We’re going to be on a journey to understand the new optimal normal.” Recognizing the problems with WFH — isolation, loneliness — she said they are starting with one day a week in the office, “So you can be in the company of your colleagues and have the experience of engaging face to face — we think that’s important and healthy, especially in creative companies. It’s time for us to rebuild our connections with each other.”
Moving from Mental Health Conversations to Action Steps
Now that mental health discussions are finally more open, how do we move from conversations to action? The panelists discussed how leaders can change company culture to allow for more internal — which has an external impact as well. Gay explained that consumers know when your brand is not authentic, saying, “What goes on inside your company is reflected on the outside.”
Gay proposed the following three-part plan for enacting mental health change at your organization: See, Learn, and Do.
See. Recognize how you speak about mental health in the workplace. Ensure you’re speaking about “me” and “us” rather than “them,” because mental health is something everyone has, and we can all do more to improve.
Learn what other companies are doing, pay attention to signs of burnout, and ask your team and organization for their feedback. Engage senior executive leadership so they model what listening looks like.
Do. Companies can choose options that work for their goals, whether that means starting employee affinity groups or tying mental health into events like Pride Month or Black History Month. Be sure to use language that helps people feel comfortable and understood. For instance, rather than “back to work,” use “back to the office,” or “back together” — people have been working this whole time!
On a similar note, Howard asked what many of us want to know: Is it ok to ask others about their mental health in a work setting?
Von Plato says yes: “We are recognizing that people are burnt out, have anxiety, have loneliness. It’s on the rise. It’s part of leadership responsibility to reach out and check on people and see how they’re doing. I’ve heard it called “psychological first aid” — being able to understand how to intervene and pay attention.”
Digging into Mental Health with Healthline Media
Looking for more conversation around mental well-being? Read our recent insights into the needs of today’s consumers, from today’s five top trends in mental health content, to an in-depth exploration of parents and youth.
SOURCE: Healthline Media Survey on Social Media & Mental Health, March 2022, N= 1041 US Consumers