Throughout my career, and as president of Ontraport, I have learned how valuable it is for business leaders to establish an environment that protects employee mental health and promotes mental strength.
But that’s often not what happens.
About 60 percent of people whose work has been affected by stress are too afraid to talk to their boss about it. Concerns about receiving a negative response from company leaders often leads to suppressing these issues, which adversely affects both the employee and the business. This is why it is especially important to establish workplace practices that create a safe space and mental health accommodations.
Mental health concerns do not apply only to individuals who have spent decades in the workforce. Many new members assign an increased value to mental health, and taking measures to improve conditions in the workplace is important across the board.
When having the conversation of promoting healthy workplace practices, it is important to understand the difference between mental strength and mental health. According to psychotherapist Amy Morin, “Mental strength is about acknowledging your emotions, expressing them, and coping with them in healthy ways.” Mental health, on the other hand, refers to “the overall state of your mental wellness.”
This can be understood in terms of physical strength and physical health. Establishing a strong physique will improve overall physical health, but an individual who works out 7 days a week can still get sick. The relationship between mental strength and mental health functions the same way.
In some professional circles, mental health and mental strength are referred to as completely separate entities — if you have to focus on your mental health, you must not be very strong; if you’re mentally strong, you don’t need to do anything to boost the mental health you already have.
In fact, they’re connected. Maintaining mental strength requires a commitment to mental health, and leaders who overlook the need to feed mental health miss out on having the strongest team possible.
These five elements are critical to building any professional’s mental strength:
1. Encourage community within your company
Nobody likes eating alone in the cafeteria. The simple act of positioning someone to feel like part of a group can counteract the loneliness that can terrorize a person’s mind and override the ability to think clearly. One study found that lonely people are less susceptible to rewards than others, suggesting they might also be less likely to be engaged with your projects or your work.
Establish a group to support people who want to quit smoking, or create a mentorship program. Building communities within your organization ensures that people are caring for and supporting one another, treating each individual like a person and not a number.
2. Set realistic expectations for performance, both good and bad
Employees’ awareness of their own need for help is the first step in the process of building mental strength, but it is equally as important for the company leaders to ensure that they have established an environment that is capable of providing appropriate accommodations. Without a comforting work environment, employees are likely to find a new job that can accommodate their needs. This is not only disheartening for company morale, but it is also financially disadvantageous. Losing employees, incurring training costs and absorbing the cost of filling roles can impact a company’s long-term prognosis.
Some leaders freeze at the thought of championing downtime, thinking it will encourage lazy people to be lazier, but it can be beneficial. 25% of people cite work as the biggest stressor in their life, and this can lead to depression, anxiety and burnout. If leaders set clear expectations for what needs to get done, they can establish built-in accountability and still allow plenty of flexibility for employees to reduce their stress levels and work more productively.
3. Invest in hiring processes that benefit candidates as much as they benefit you
At Ontraport, I personally interview every single employee we hire. Some people may think a healthier approach is the opposite: Leaders should trust their employees to make those decisions. I do trust my employees — I trust them to refer the right people. I then meet with candidates to confirm that the people I’m surrounded by not only like what they do and perform well, but are also in a situation to be successful.
By sharing my vision of where the company is headed, I’m able to paint a picture of how each person will play a part in achieving that. Seeing people light up — or lose interest — tells me whether they’ll be happy in our environment over the long haul, and ignoring that would be doing a disservice to both my company and these candidates.
4. Remind yourself of what’s beyond the office doors
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to believe that everyone else should be as obsessed with the company as you are. Most of these people, however, aren’t owners and don’t have the same stake in the game. Providing them with opportunities to take ownership of projects or processes is important, but their lives don’t begin and end with your office.
When you see an opening to support employees outside the office, do it. Does your engineer’s daughter have a recital? Has it been a year since your designer took a vacation? Could you offer additional support to your developer who’s caring for an elderly parent? All of these scenarios represent opportunities to honor every aspect of your employees’ lives so they know you’ve got their back. Having the support of team leaders during tough times allows people to deal with mental health challenges in healthy and effective ways, establishing mental strength.
5. Take the time to build physical strength while building mental strength
As anyone who has taken a long walk in nature can attest, taking care of one’s body is often closely connected to taking care of one’s mind. The first thing to drop off the radar when we’re feeling less than our best mentally is the need to work out or eat healthy, so leaders have to proactively build healthy structures for their teams.
I’ve offered what I call Morning Meditations, built-in times to disengage from the rapid pace of everything else and reconnect with being present in the moment. I’ve known other entrepreneurs who have supplied healthy snacks at the office, organized group walks or assembled teams for kickball or softball leagues.
Mental health and mental strength aren’t built overnight — as they say, anything worth having takes work. That’s why it’s vital that leaders support their employees by creating communities, setting realistic expectations, establishing two-way hiring processes and recognizing outside influences. Strengthening the people who are important to you ensures that your company will be equally strong, making mental health a win-win for entrepreneurs who acknowledge it.
Article originally published on Entrepreneur.com.