How Leaders Can Improve Mental Health

October 10thwas Mental Health Day. The day was established in 1992 as a way to build awareness, education, and advocacy around the stigma of mental health issues. Over the last couple of decades, I think we’ve made some progress in dispelling incorrect perceptions about mental health and understanding how to promote environments that support it. But, we have a ways to go, as this report from the Mental Health in the Workplace shows:

  • Mental illness is the leading cause of disability for U.S. adults aged 15 to 44.
  • More days are lost to absenteeism due to mental health than to other illness or injury.
  • One in five U.S. adults experience mental illness in a given year, and only 43% receive treatment.
  • Mental illness costs the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity, with over 300 million people suffering from depression.

In the face of these statistics, it’s important for leaders to understand that promoting mental health and overall organizational health are the same issueand a concern we must all share. It’s in all our best interest to work towards an organizational culture that supports mental health and offers resources for those who need it. To that end, here are a few ideas for how leaders can promote mental health as a way towards comprehensive organizational health.


It’s common for those battling mental health issues to feel a sense of powerlessness. The feeling of powerlessness often comes with a perspective that life is happening tothem and they are passive bystanders with little control over their own destiny. This is just one of the reasons why leaders should empower team members through fostering autonomy.

This can be done through expecting others to take a meaningful role in decision-making, taking their input seriously, and offering space to exercise their own judgement. We know that empowered employees are more engaged, productive, and loyal. And, when team members are expected to help identify engagement barriers and opportunities for positive change, they are more likely to feel empowered to make a difference in their immediate environment.

What encourages greater autonomy? Authentic leadership.Authentic leadership encourages transparency and ownership of our own choices. Authentic leadership fosters an environment to go after what you want and do what’s right even in the face of extreme opposition. In a culture that empowers team members to act with autonomy, everyone is less likely to feel powerless.

Work-Life Integration

The idea of “work-life balance” is a myth. Viewing work and life as competing factions that must be managed with equity is impossible and unhealthy. A better perspective is to seek work-life integration. As Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh says, “Work is life, life is work. When work is something you are passionate about it’s not about work or life; it’s just life.”

In an ideal situation, we feel the same level of enthusiasm, engagement, and energy across our entire life, not just pieces and parts. Leaders who understand that work and life are part of an integrated whole, are likely to have healthier team members who feel empowered to meet personal and professional needs without pitting one against the other.

Of course, creating a culture of work-life integration must be unique to the organization. While some organizations might be able to offer flexible hours and the ability to work remotely, this simply isn’t possible for everyorganization. The bottom line is for leaders to seek ways to grant team members enough freedom to adequately manage their life and work as an integrated whole.

A High Trust Culture

In 2015, Google published the results of a two-year study of team performance, which found that “psychological safety” is the most important factor in the formation of successful teams. The study defined this safety as a quality that allows team members to “feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of one another.”In other words, the teams were operating in a high trust culture.

Risk-taking is an essential component of long-term growth and stability for most organizations. Taking risks involves a certain amount of vulnerability, and vulnerability requires trust. Only teams that operate in a high-trust environment will benefit from the free flow of innovative ideas. Equally important, investing in trust supports mental health when team members feel safe coming forward with personal struggles that might impact their work.

Resilience flourishes in organizations that invest in the well-being of their employees. Organizations that promote the health and wellbeing of their people are stronger, more impervious to change, and more likely to come through difficult challenges in a way that promotes growth. As leaders, if we understand this, we will embrace the investment inemotional and organizational health as more than a preventative measure. Healthy, happy, productive people are in invaluable resource.

About Dan Finerty

Dan Finerty is the Director of Marketing at the Mountain West Credit Union Association, a Credit Union champion, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), and an award-winning marketer. Dan has over 14 years of marketing experience in communications, retail, packaged goods, and, of course, Credit Unions. He believes that Credit Unions have an incredible story to tell and works with some of the brightest Credit Union professionals to help promote Credit Unions to the public. Dan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and in Management. He is also a swell guy.

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