Human brain on a blue background with a stethoscope, symbolising mental health.
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‘Admitting that we have feelings at work doesn’t have to be scary’

12 Jun 2020434 Views

Toby Hervey of Bravely discusses how employers can prioritise employee wellbeing, whether they’re working remotely or not.

Toby Hervey is the CEO and co-founder of Bravely, a New York-based company that links people experiencing stress at work with professional coaches.

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Before his work with Bravely, he was a founding member of on-demand healthcare app Pager. Hervey is also on the board of Out in Tech, an organisation looking to unite the LGBTQ community in the tech industry.

Here, he discusses how employers can start to prioritise employee wellbeing under the current circumstances, and why this needs to continue whether staff are working remotely or in-house.

‘The return to office life, whenever it happens, will be a huge opportunity to rethink the level of connectedness we want in our working environments’
– TOBY HERVEY

Toby Hervey of Bravely is smiling into the camera.

Toby Hervey. Image: Bravely

Why should employers view mental health as a priority, in your opinion?

Mental health and life at work are inextricably linked – our emotional state impacts our ability to do great work, and our lives at work inevitably affect our overall sense of wellbeing.

When someone’s mental health is suffering for any reason, it’s reflected in their readiness to communicate, their ability to be creative and their drive to consistently deliver against goals and deadlines, all of which are key pillars of high performance. Over time, it can even impact how long they stay with the company.

Would you say employers are paying enough attention to mental health?

There are some great examples of organisations supporting their people holistically, including providing mental health resources, but too often it feels like a one-and-done approach without adequate recognition of the centrality of someone’s work life in their overall wellbeing.

We’re huge supporters of companies providing resources like meditation apps and therapy services, but not at the price of considering the work finished and a lack of self-recognition of the role that workplace culture plays as a root cause in many cases. Employers are making progress, but there’s more work to be done.

What are some initial steps employers can take to make employees feel that their mental wellbeing is important?

First, realise that mental health is a vast spectrum and that it includes both the positive emotions people feel and the challenges they face. Everything you might feel at work – things like joy, panic, pride, satisfaction, rage and comfort – are normal and they should be talked about openly, through the good, the bad and everything in between.

Also, for the message to resonate, it has to come from leaders at every level of the organisation. Admitting that we have feelings at work doesn’t have to be scary. When leaders model that vulnerability, it’s powerful.

Communicating with your people is a must, and it has to go beyond a simple ‘how are you?’ We all just say ‘I’m fine’ to that question, and it doesn’t really benefit anyone.

Now is the step for managers to really get to know what’s going on in their people’s lives. What normally feels like crossing boundaries is now necessary.

We see three ways managers can help ward off burnout:

  1. Empower people to open up. Use one-on-one calls to ask directly and explicitly how people are feeling and about where they need help. Share more of your personal challenges as a way of cultivating openness and vulnerability. Truly knowing what’s happening is the only way to be able to prevent burnout.
  2. Help people prioritise high-impact work. Now is the time where you need to ask yourself honestly if you really need deadlines to be so tight or if you need the volume of work you might normally expect. Keep your team’s efforts focused on work with outsized impact relative to effort and hold off on anything extraneous.
  3. Clarify remote communication norms. Be clear with your people about the hours the team is expected to be online and delivering. Set norms with each other about how to respond outside of those hours. Being clear is the kindest way to help people navigate this uncertain period.
How should companies continue to work on this as they start to return to an office environment?

It’s important that companies don’t let go of the more human practices they’ve taken on during the pandemic once they go back to the office. The same way we’ve become more accommodating toward, for example, seeing a co-worker’s kid on a call, we have to continue to be okay with seeing people’s human sides in the workplace.

The same way we’ve become more forthcoming in asking colleagues how they’re doing, we have to continue to see each other and check in with each other. The return to office life, whenever it happens, will be a huge opportunity to rethink the level of connectedness we want in our working environments.

What would your advice be to someone experiencing mental health issues at the moment?

You’re not the only person dealing with something. It might feel like everyone else has it all together and that you’re the only one falling apart, but that’s never true.

You can get what you need to succeed at work by asking for it. By admitting you need help, you’re giving someone else permission to do the same and opening the door to a better life at work.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa joined the team as senior Careers reporter in July 2019 with previous experience in science communication and media. With a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication, she is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos.

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