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C-Suite Series – A Sunny San Diego Chat with C-Levels – Mental Health in the Workplace – Part 1

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October 28, 2019

Adrian Bartha

Our C-level panel at our annual conference, NXT: The Future of EHS, brought together 3 owners and executives of high growth companies across the energy, utilities and construction industries from across North America to share what is on the mind of C-Level Executives.

Chris Payson CEO of Reach Wireline, Richard Jackson President and COO of Spark Power, and Jeremy Hand CEO of Avenge Energy Services had the opportunity to dig deep into the mind of C-Level personnel.

We tackled topics such as the moment “they got safety”, how safety performance affects their businesses and how the invisible mental health issues in the workplace affect productivity.

We’ll kick it off with some observations with Mental Health. I’ll be circling back next week with another topic from our discussion with the participants.

Mental Health in the Workplace

In traditionally hazardous industries with “tough guy” attitudes, how do we raise awareness of personal mental health in the workplace? Most of the hazards visibly apparent to our workforces are things that can injure us for life or even take a life if not careful, so how do we appropriately give the spotlight to mental health, a term barely mentioned a generation ago?

The panel had no silver bullets but acknowledged the first place to start was straight from the heart (Bryan Adams reference from an unapologetic Canuck):

1. Acknowledge it starts with the C-level

As leaders, we have employees who continue to lean on us when they need us to help them get through mental health matters stemming from the workplace or at home. Acknowledging this openly shows the entire workforce this is a real issue and deserves recognition and they are not alone. Said one C-level, “Our colleagues are like family and we take care of each other.” Living this commitment means accepting some topics may be awkward to address or even require revealing the battles we, or others close to us, have faced.

2. Create a safe space for the tough stuff

Lean on your “high EQ” colleagues and other influencers to engage others to open up about topics and embrace mental health discussions. A member of the C-Level panel even expressed his actions of sitting down with an employee who needed guidance. Quite literally sitting at his kitchen table to simply talk to him created that safe space he needed.

Counter-intuitively, for some colleagues going through a crisis, the only people they may feel they can engage are in the workplace. Some people may need medical help and support on that route of action while others may be going through tough times requiring support before a colleague becomes isolated, feels helpless or there is no other place to turn. Recognizing that mental health challenges left unchecked can also affect traditional workplace safety was another interesting way to reinforce the importance of being our best physically and mentally on the job (e.g. heavy equipment operators and the list goes on).

3. To formalize a mental health plan or not?

Does it start with a separate policy statement or perhaps as simple as a message from the leadership team that this is top of mind and affects all of us? No straight answer from panellists on how formal mental health programs for staff should become. This appeared to be a topic most of us (myself included) are new to and still figuring out…

Does your organization address this topic successfully? What have you seen work?

I’d love to hear your examples and update this post. Share your thoughts with me at Adrian.bartha(at)ecompliance.com

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