Mental Health

The pandemic kick-started a long-overdue conversation about mental health. And spawned many questions about the role of work in our lives. As many of us return to the office, what can we do to serve our team’s mental health needs better? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

We’re two years into the pandemic and things are still pretty intense. Returning to the office even as the 6th wave rises. War in Ukraine. Slapgate. It’s a lot.

The impact of these stresses on our mental health is real and widespread. New research from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide.

As more people return to the office, this is creating new challenges for those of us leading teams. We’re being asked to help people navigate personal challenges. But most of us don’t have the training to do so.

In addition to this lack of training, many of us are now facing the “performance-compassion dilemma“. Our teams need us to show compassion. Our company needs us to deliver results. There’s an inherent tension here that’s difficult to resolve.

Some marketers—like June Kissel—believe our industry is putting productivity first while paying shallow lip service to compassion: “We cannot say ‘log off whenever you need to’ and expect folks to complete 80 hours of work.”

This is not an isolated opinion. While there are some signs of progress, a recent survey by The Drum found that “the mental health of workers across the global marketing industry is under severe strain, with heavy workloads to blame.”

So what’s a marketing leader to do? Our advice: start with yourself. Take the time to process your own emotions and make an effort to model good self-care habits for your team.

Next, consider this simple guideline related to team culture: “Normalizing mental health in the workplace requires leaders to demonstrate the same level of concern and support for their team’s mental and physical health.”

It’s also important to recognize this uncomfortable truth: you may inadvertently be part of the problem. Try to be aware of how your moods and actions impact the mental health of others—then modify your behaviour accordingly.

Take a moment, also, to consider your team’s workload—and how you communicate about it. Be sure to set clear expectations. And draw a clear line between top priorities and things that can slide a little if necessary.

If pressure from above is hurting your ability to lead with compassion, it might be time to formulate a business case. This research from WHO found that investing in treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a fourfold return.

If your CEO puts stock in peer-reviewed academic research, you might also try this study published in The Lancet.

Our final tip is also our favourite: give your team the option to take sad days as well as sick days.

This idea cuts to the heart of this whole issue. Mental and physical health are both delicate. And precious. It’s past time we treated them as equally important.

Issue #140
Apr 10, 2022

Further Reading