Open the lines of communicationDemonstrate commitment from the top and lead by example, communicating that during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, it is important to address stress, mental illness, and substance use.This can start with “pulse checks”—emails sent to employees that ask two or three short questions about their work, life, mentorship, and health. Or it could be as simple as, “How are you feeling?” and “What’s giving you the greatest stress this week?” Always provide a reminder on how to access mental-health resources and professional help for those in immediate crisis.
Understand and meet the needUnderstand the impact of psychological distress, mental illnesses, and substance-use disorders on the workforce. This includes using employee surveys, benefits reports, disability claims, and productivity assessments.While anecdotes can illustrate the human impact of mental illness, at McKinsey, we also look at metrics and data, all of which are anonymized and confidential. This aggregate information can pinpoint which departments have employees with higher rates of distress. Further, an analysis of disability claims and benefit reports can allow insights into whether we are meeting employees’ needs.
Know the signs of distressInvest in training to equip leaders with the skills, language, and norms to support your colleagues.Twenty years ago, when someone on my team told me he had to take leave to address his mental health, I was crushed: I completely missed the distress signals and wasn’t there to support him when he needed it most. It is a deep regret and learning moment I hold with me to this day. It is also why I’m so committed to the mental-health training we are rolling out for our leaders.Consider a short training for team leaders that focuses on recognizing signs of distress, making clear that it’s driven by a genuine desire to connect employees with the right support and resources. When companies make mental health a priority, teams can, in turn, offer greater value to their customers or clients. For example, one of our recent projects at McKinsey involved helping interested members of a medical staff receive 90-minute training sessions on building team resilience and deepening relationships.
Make help availableEmbrace strategies to address key stressors, improve behavioral-health literacy, promote mental wellness, and prevent substance misuse.Make it easy to access help, ensuring that everything from self-help tools to high-quality treatment providers are visible, affordable, and available virtually as well as in person. Be clear about which options for mental health are available via telehealth services.
Embrace and encourage self-careCreate an inclusive culture where those seeking treatment and self-care are supported, recovery is celebrated, and social connectivity is a priority.Maintain an open dialogue. Ask if your colleagues are taking regular breaks, prioritizing sleep, and checking in on one another. My teams make it a point to discuss what we’re doing over the weekend, how we’re staying healthy, and whether we’re all getting enough rest.As the lines of our personal and work spaces blur, I remind my team to take extra care for renewal and try to lead by example. That means unplugging and finding family or individual activities that restore the spirit. Recently, in my house, that has meant bringing a journal to the dinner table each night so that my husband, daughter, and I can write a line of gratitude—no repeats! Whether it’s reflection, reading, exercise, or spending time with our family, it is up to us to practice self-care and show vulnerability by admitting our own struggles.
This isn’t going to be easy, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. It will require us to learn an entire new vocabulary on mental health, and many organizations will have to undertake large structural and cultural transformations. But even when the challenges seem great, I know we can lift each other up. Every day, I draw inspiration from my colleagues. I know you do, too. It’s up to us to harness that inspiration into tangible change that can address mental health across the workforce.