Mental health is one of the most important topics of our time because it affects everyone whether you suffer, have suffered or interact with someone who does.

LinkedIn article by Dan Schawbel — New York Times Bestselling Author, Forbes & Inc. 30 Under 30, Keynote Speaker & Serial Entrepreneur 

All generations have suffered from mental health, but in today’s culture we are finally having long overdo conversations about it. I’ve personally suffered from anxiety my entire life and it can be crippling at points. It wasn’t until I turned 35, where I finally had the courage to talk openly about anxiety in an Instagram post and then on Impact Theory. The stigma around mental health has started to be reduced as major celebrities speak up about their own battles (Ryan ReynoldsMaria CareyBella HadidDwayne Johnson and Camila Cabello), and the mainstream media continues to cover it. Mental health doesn’t discern between our age, gender, ethnicity, status or location. And, it can greatly affect our ability to be productive in the workplace, which is why it’s a business issue not just a personal one.

Our jobs can have a major affect on our mental health. One survey found that nearly half of people say that their workplace has a negative impact on their mental health. On the other hand, people bring their mental health issues into the workplace. Mental health issues don’t magically disappear after the workday is over either; they stay with us wherever we go. People aren’t open to talking about their mental health issues at work out of fear that they may be judged, that it could hurt their career or they aren’t comfortable enough with their team to open up. Yet, 61% of people said that their productivity is negatively affected by their mental health, which ends up costing employers about $225.8 billion annually. Poor mental health has caused almost half of American workers to cry and quit their jobs. A new study by Aetna found that 89% of employees would stay with an employer longer if they provided mental health support and two-thirds wouldn’t work for a company that didn’t have a clear policy on supporting mental health. I have a lot of hope and optimism about not only removing the stigma entirely, but actually getting people the help they need. Unlike physical health, mental health issues aren’t visible to the human eye, yet must be treated with equal care. Corporations will need to play a vital role in solving and supporting the mental health crisis we’re in, especially because people spend a third of their lives working. Corporate mental health programs aren’t just important, they are effective and necessary for helping combat this crisis. A study found that companies with mental health programs in place for one year had a median annual return of investment of $1.62 for every dollar invested.

Some forward-thinking companies are already taking mental health seriously by providing the necessary resources to support their workforces. I had a conversation with their leaders, who I’m proclaiming are the “leaders championing the mental health at work movement” for their effort, concern and support on this important topic. I spoke to five executives, and mental health activists, to better understand how their companies are supporting their workers mental health. These include Marissa Andrada (Chief People Officer at Chipotle Mexican Grill), Danielle Shanes (Head of Benefits and Well-Being at the National Basketball Association), Jennifer Bruno (Vice President of Global Health Services at Johnson & Johnson), Jen Fisher (U.S. Chief Well-being Officer at Deloitte) and Michael Weiner (EY Assist Leader).

Leading the mental health at work movement

Dan Schawbel: Why are companies, such as yours, focused on providing mental health benefits for today’s workforce? 

  • Marissa Andrada (Chipotle): Chipotle’s purpose is to Cultivate A Better World. We believe that starts with creating a culture where our employees can thrive and pursue their passions. Our employees are at the center of consistently preparing and serving our real food to customers and we want to ensure that they have the personal confidence to do so. Overall well-being includes cultivating mental fitness. Employees are our greatest asset; we want to provide as much support as we can to empower them AND their families as they navigate their personal and professional journeys.
  • Danielle Shanes (NBA): Mental health is just as important as physical health, and the impact they have on each other is well documented. Benefits leaders have a unique look into how mental health affects employees: we’re seeing trends in prescription drug claims, seeing how assistance programs are used, and listening to employees across multiple demographics about their life experiences.
  • Jennifer Bruno (Johnson & Johnson): Rooted in Our Credo, J&J is on a bold mission to become the healthiest workforce by helping our employees and their families live well across their whole lives. We recognize that a big part of that is mental health and well-being. If employees are feeling stressed or feeling unsupported, we have a responsibility to support them by providing the tools and resources for them to be their personal best at work and at home. Mental health and physical health are inextricably linked.
  • Jen Fisher (Deloitte): When employees are well, they can perform at their best. They are more engaged, productive, and creative. They can bring their best selves to work and home every day. At Deloitte we want to empower our people to focus on all facets of their well-being, including body, mind, and purpose. Given that many are impacted by mental illness and the stigmas that exist are very ingrained in our society, mental health is area where people still feel afraid to speak up about their needs. This presents an opportunity for organizations and leaders to help break down stigmas and better support their people so they can truly focus on their holistic well-being, including their mental health.
  • Michael Weiner (EY): Rates of Mental illness and addictions are rising year after year, and more concerning is that rates of suicides and overdose deaths have increased steadily since 1999. In fact, this is the primary reason that lifespans in the U.S. have shortened for the first time since World War I. High schools and universities are struggling to keep up with increased demand for mental health services, and these students are on the cusp of entering the workforce. So, this trend is not likely to change any time soon. The reason(s) for this are not known and greatly debated – from attributing it to the rise of social media and smartphones to perhaps something else entirely. The bottom line is that that mental illness and addiction numbers are increasing. Employers need to make sure they have adequate benefits, resources and a culture that supports their people to get the care they need.

Dan: We recently surveyed 3,400 Gen Z’s globally with Kronos and discovered that the biggest barrier they have to overcome to achieve workplace success is anxiety. What is a company’s responsibility to help remove this barrier? 

  • Marissa: Delivering on our promise of delicious, real food, excellent service and contributing to the community is impossible if our people aren’t able to bring their best selves to work. A company’s responsibility is to provide access to resources that will foster personal and professional development. We believe that providing access to mental health resources will empower our employees to build confidence in who and how they are contributing at work.
  • Danielle: We’ve seen younger employees experience quarter-life crises, struggle with family planning and navigating social media, and many other issues. NBA player Kevin Love often says, “everyone is going through something,” even if we don’t show it on the outside. What impacts us inside, whether the root is home life or work life, impacts us at work: in how we show up every day and how we treat our coworkers and clients. Ultimately, that impacts the success of our business, so it’s never been more important for the NBA to proactively provide a variety of support, tools and resources.
  • Jennifer: At J&J, we are working to reduce mental health stigma and create a supportive work environment through routine workplace reviews, online personal empowerment programs, positive role modeling and people leader trainings designed to raise awareness of mental health and by providing offerings to support employees. Our Mental Health Diplomats, part of the Alliance for Diverse Abilities employee resource group, are an important resource for our employees living with mental illness, either as a patient or as a caregiver. The Mental Health Diplomats have 13 focus areas such as depression, suicide, eating disorders, anxiety, grief and many others. Each focus area is designed to drive awareness and education through shaping internal policies and identifying local Mental Health Diplomat chapters in need of support.
  • Jen: Organizations can play a part in supporting their employees to take care of their mental health in a number of ways. They can provide benefits and resources to empower employees to get the help they need. They can provide education on mental illness, how to support those dealing with a challenge, and how to proactively care for your own emotional and mental well-being. Most importantly, organizations can do their part to break down stigmas and create a supportive and open workplace culture where people feel comfortable speaking honestly about mental health.
  • Michael: There are multiple studies that indicate the incident rates of mental illness and addictions impacts about 1 in 4 people and that anxiety and depression are the top two diagnostic categories. The challenge is that only 1 in 3 people access care despite the prevalence of effective treatment — the primary reason is believed to be stigma, fear and shame. Despite EY’s culture of caring, we knew we were not immune to these global issues. We addressed this via our campaign to stamp out the stigma of mental illness and addictions. Our campaign — We Care — provides information about how to recognize the signs that someone is struggling and how to connect them to support – like our employee assistance program (EAP) EY Assist. We strive for a workplace where individuals can bring their whole self to work. So, no matter what someone may be dealing with outside of work — a financial issue, relationship issue, medical or mental health issue or, perhaps, they are a caregiver — they will be met with compassion and an offer to connect them to resources like EY Assist.

Dan: How did you decide what to incorporate as part of your mental health benefits and what outcomes are you looking to achieve?

  • Marissa: We listen intently to our people and incorporate their feedback when determining what to prioritize in our benefits offerings. We acknowledge that mental health is a personal journey for each employee, which is why we decided to include access to our employees AND their family members to this benefit. The best outcome is to ensure that our employees feel capable and confident in achieving their personal and professional goals – so that they can bring that same energy when they show up at work. Mental health is critical to overall well-being and we hope that these programs will provide our team members with the needed resources.
  • Danielle: We have a few key objectives, generated based on what we’ve heard from our employees, players, consultants and health care partners, what we see in our data and what we instinctively know is needed to have a workplace where people thrive. 1) Ensure the NBA is an emotionally healthy place to work. This isn’t a benefit; it is culture. It’s what employees experience from the moment they first arrive at the NBA, and what they feel in their daily work and throughout their careers. 2) Create an inclusive environment where it is okay to acknowledge that one has an emotional wellbeing or mental health concern. Inclusion is central to every aspect of our culture, and by conducting educational sessions about emotional wellbeing and mental health, and hosting programing like free yoga classes, Kindness boards (places employees can leave positive thoughts for each other) and Rejuvenation Stations (places employees can go during our events to rest and free themselves of stress), we aim to proactively create space for employees to look after and discuss their emotional wellbeing. 3) Provide appropriate preventive resources and appropriate access to treatment. These include a free subscription to Headspace for all league and team employees, an annual Wellbeing Day that employees can use to take care of any physical, financial or emotional wellbeing needs, and a wellbeing allowance to pay for physical, financial or emotional wellbeing goods and services.
  • Jennifer: As a healthcare company, addressing whole health – a big part of which is mental health – is our responsibility, not just for the people that use our products every day, but also for our employees. Our overall strategy is to look at mental health the same way we look at physical health. We encourage open conversations and sharing, continue to break down stigma and build connections, and provide mental health and well-being tools and resources, equipping our employees with what they need to come to work engaged and empowered. One way we’re encouraging open conversations is by empowering employees to advocate for social change through books, photography, mental health bike rides, fundraising and more. As another example, we train employees on the principles of Energy for Performance® (E4P), developed by Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute. This program takes a multidimensional – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – approach to teach employees how to be more spiritually nourished, physically focused and direct their energy towards what is most purposeful. The training also helps enhance personal resilience, helping employees understand how taking time to disconnect allows them to reconnect with what matters most. Our internal studies have found a positive correlation for performance, promotion and retention for graduates of the E4P course.
  • Jen: Our vision at Deloitte is to create a culture that promotes courageous conversations around mental health – by encouraging vulnerability, tolerance, and empathy. We want to break down stigmas and encourage our people to take care of their mental health, just as they would their physical health. We do this by; Building awareness about mental illness with our Mental health @ work internal campaign focused on sharing stories and offering resources to support mental and emotional well-being. Offering education, including Mental health first aid and other courses focused on empathy and active listening so our people can act with compassion and support their colleagues. Encouraging self-care and building resilience by leverage well-being resources, education, benefits, and support.
  • Michael: EY’s employee assistance program began more than four decades ago. It has expanded significantly in scope over time to meet the evolving needs of our people. The number of web-based tools to support mental health has grown exponentially during the past few years, and many programs report a variety of ROIs and utilization rates. EY considers a variety of factors, but some key criteria include: Does the product have published outcome studies demonstrating a reduction in symptoms? Does the program have the stickiness to make a lasting improvement for the areas they address? Will the program resonate with our people?

Dan: For companies looking to build a strong mental health program, what are your recommendations for where they should start, what should be included and how to communicate those benefits to employees? 

  • Marissa: Each organization has different needs and priorities, so it’s important to exhibit stellar listening skills. What are your people saying? What do they need? Chipotle encourages employees interested in participating in these benefits to speak to their manager, or to connect with us at You truly can’t over-communicate with your people!
  • Danielle: Use your data and employee demographics (things like age, family size); look at survey and focus group data (we ask specific questions about stress, culture, satisfaction with resources, knowledge of resources, what topics are of interest, what they think we should offer, etc.); and vendor data (usage of current programs, what offerings vendors have that you aren’t leveraging, etc.). Next, conduct a gap analysis of what you have and what you want to offer, in the context of both benefits and culture. Do people feel safe openly expressing their views? Do they trust their leadership? Are people respectful of each other? Can they take time off when they need to? Do you have leadership support to talk about these issues and promote relevant programs? These factors help create an emotionally-healthy workplace. Focus on quick wins: things that are easy to implement at low cost but will make an impact, and plan for the higher impact, longer-term wins.
  • Jennifer: We believe the first step to changing the paradigm around mental health is to build a culture of health within your organization that prioritizes mental health as part of the overall health, well-being and safety of the employee population. From there, it is critical that this culture is championed at every level of the organization and that you design policies to meet employees where they are.
  • Jen: I think a strong mental health program starts with education – helping your people understand what mental health is and what mental illness is. Stigmas exist due to misinformation, so to break down stigmas, it’s important to build a strong understanding amongst your employee population. I also think it’s important that you are engaging all your people, not just at the leadership level but all levels. Everyone should play a part in creating a culture that supports mental health at work. Finally, I think sharing stories is vital to any mental health program. There’s a lot we can learn from each other’s experiences, and I think people more easily relate and learn from personal stories.
  • Michael: A good place to start is to find a collaborative EAP vendor with a strong strategic account manager is. The EAP should be held accountable to achieve utilization and resolution rates, and employers too should hold themselves accountable to promote the benefit. Companies can build a campaign to address the stigma of mental illness and addictions, and there are lots of great programs available at no cost. A few examples include: ICU programIWilllistenRight DirectionIn Our Own VoiceNAMI Stigma FreeR U Ok? and Stamp out Stigma.

Dan: What is your vision for the future of mental health benefits not just at your company but for the entire global workforce?

  • Marissa: I’d like to invite other companies to join us in prioritizing mental health as we do physical health. We’re excited to be leading this conversation and ensuring that Chipotle creates a desirable and supportive environment for our people.
  • Danielle: For us, benefits are just one aspect of this conversation. It’s about creating an environment where: 1) Quality care is easier to access. More quality mental health professionals accept insurance and it’s easier to get appointments sooner. 2) Mental health check-ups are as prevalent as physical health checks-ups. Even at the workplace, there is a mental health equivalent of a biometric screening. 3) Individuals have relationships with mental health professionals just like they do with their doctors, so that every interaction is not a brand-new experience. 4) Employees feel comfortable talking about their emotional wellbeing and mental health struggles without fear of repercussion.
  • Jennifer: At Johnson & Johnson, we set a goal to have the healthiest workforce by 2020. We are achieving this goal through policies and programs that target our employees’ biggest health risks, and encourage healthy movement, healthy eating and healthy mind. We’ve made great progress on our goal, but it is not a job that is ever done. As an organization, we have made a commitment to help employees, their families and their communities to live well across their whole lives – spiritual, mental, emotional, physical and financial – but know that the needs of the workforce are changing. We are continuously evolving our benefits to ensure we are supporting employees and their mental health and well-being in the best way possible both now and in to the future so that they can be successful at both work and at home. I encourage every organization, big or small, to take the time to evaluate your approach to mental health benefits and programs to encourage transparent workplace discussions on the topic. Together, we can create real change.
  • Jen: Benefits are important but I think culture is also a vital piece that is often overlooked. You can provide amazing mental health benefits, but if your leaders and your employees aren’t creating a supportive culture at work, they may go unused. My vision is that we go beyond just providing benefits and create an empathetic culture that supports and embraces a mentally healthy workplace.
  • Michael: That is a great question. My hope, which I believe is achievable, is that mental illness and addictions are universally met with the same care, concern and compassion as any other health condition and that these individuals have access to affordable and effective care.

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