7 steps to improve mental health in the workplace based on Deloitte’s practices

Allison Britz, lead marketing specialist on the Events Operations team at Deloitte, has recently opened up about her struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in her book, “Obsessed: A Memoir of My Life with OCD.” Britz spoke candidly with Ladders about her mental health issues and how Deloitte has handled mental health in the workplace in ways that help her excel in her career while keeping her OCD symptoms in check. Here are seven ways that employers can help improve the conversation around mental health in the workplace.

Create an environment of acceptance and awareness about mental health in the workplace

“The most important thing is that Deloitte has always been at the forefront of talking about mental health in the workplace,” Britz said.

Deloitte just launched the “Mental health @ work” campaign at the beginning of May to coincide with the national Mental Health Awareness Month. The company-wide campaign is focused on empowering employees to take charge of their mental health. The internal campaign is focused on building awareness about mental illness, getting rid of stigmas, and providing employees with resources to support mental health needs.

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Deloitte’s campaign has multiple facets, with the first being an internal site that is home to information and resources for mental health. The second part is focused on learning opportunities, including mental health first aid training. Vitals, a program launched nationally, is a dashboard that uses data insights to enhance conversations on well-being and identify signs of burnout before it happens. Additionally, Deloitte is aiding in sharing the stories of employees (like Allison Britz) who are willing to speak out about mental health struggles.

Deloitte knows that even with all these efforts, the work is never done, which is why they have a whole full-time position dedicated to the issue: the chief well-being officer role, currently held by Jen Fisher.

“One thing that Deloitte does very well is understanding that it can’t just be a static conversation,” Britz said. “One conversation, or even ten conversations, isn’t going to change the culture. Mental health and mental illness need to be present, evolving, and always at the forefront.”

In order to change the culture through the corporate ranks, each manager needs to be trained on how to best handle mental health in the workplace.

Encourage an open line of communication between manager and employee

Working on mental health in the workplace is all about “bringing the conversation down from up high, from the theoretical up in the clouds into the practical day-to-day with managers and employees,” Britz said. “It’s about bringing it to action. Taking words and thoughts and making them apply to the real workplace.”

While Britz admires the work that the campaign has done so far, she recognizes that a campaign won’t cause this magic epiphany moment that changes the way mental illnesses is handled. Fortunately, Deloitte doesn’t stop with just a campaign.

“Deloitte really understands that the change comes from your relationship with your direct manager,” Britz said. Your boss is the person who actually decides rating and promotions, so their judgments will affect you the most, which is why it’s important to have an open line of communication when it comes to mental health in the workplace.

“If you work for an employer that has fostered that value of communicating back and forth and being open, you should be able to talk to your manager about what is going on to make things harder for you,” Britz said.

An effective manager will work through a problem with you and attempt to provide what you need in order to subside your symptoms. That open line of communication allows employees to speak directly with their manager before a problem gets worse. Effective communication not only aids in solving a problem but preventing them as well.

Help employees find positions that meet their needs

Before working at Deloitte, Britz held a sales role that required her to do a fair amount of traveling. Due to her OCD, Britz doesn’t do well traveling by herself and therefore had to leave this job. In 2015, Britz joined Deloitte in a role that worked for her and her OCD symptoms, but Britz was placed into a role that required a lot of travel when the marketing group underwent a reorganization. Knowing that role wouldn’t set her or her team up for success, Britz spoke with the Human Resources department, which was able to work with marketing leadership to place her in a more fitting role.

“Deloitte really went above and beyond to help me find a home within the firm that worked for me,” Britz said.

Offer flexibility in work schedule

At Deloitte, there’s not only an emphasis on flexibility on Britz’s team but across the whole firm. As a way to take the pressure off her symptoms, Britz is able to fully work from home.

“For me, with my OCD, that is incredibly beneficial,” Britz said.

Working from home takes away certain aspects of a work routine that may be stressful for individuals with mental illnesses. For example, getting dressed for work is one process that Britz does not miss from her days in the office.

“It really allows me to focus on my work,” Britz said. “All this extra noise that could be distracting because of my OCD is not even a factor in my life.”

Companies that aren’t able to offer an employee to work from home full-time should consider allowing it part-time or once a week. At the least, companies should work with employees who may function better in the morning or night and be flexible when it comes to doctors appointments and times when an employee’s symptoms are worse than usual.

Understand that work-life balance isn’t one-size fits all

“Work-life balance isn’t one size fits all or even one size fits every day,” Britz said.

Like with anything in life, each day varies based on circumstances. “Some days I need more space to try to take care of myself and other days I could be really on top of things,” Britz said.“The flexibility to manage my own life and feel like my firm and bosses trust me as a professional to handle myself responsibly makes an incredible difference in my life,”

While this trust takes time to build, managers should allow employees this flexibility once they have proven they can handle themselves and produce quality work.

Monitor well-being to avoid employee burnout

The Vitals application created by Deloitte is a groundbreaking tool that allows counselors, managers, and employees to monitor employee burnout.

Vitals is an application that uses data to communicate to employers and counselors when certain employees are at risk of burnout. For example, Vitals will alert a manager if a person exceeds the maximum amount of hours worked or traveled. The system even allows employees to self-report without feeling like they are complaining to their managers. On each person’s Vitals dashboard they can indicate with a green, yellow, or red battery if they are feeling fully charged, neutral, or depleted, respectively.

The system also generates graphs based on extended periods of time so that employees and employers can monitor employee habits and better predict and prevent burnout.

Promote self-care as an essential practice to aid with mental health in the workplace

An important factor in Deloitte’s campaign is promoting transparency and vulnerability in managers and modeling that for their employees. Britz described this as encouraging managers to actually “walk the walk” and care about their own wellness.

“For example, my own manager tells us specifically what she’s doing for her wellness every week,” Britz said. “She always is very verbal and puts a big spotlight on what she’s doing for her wellness and that makes me feel like I’m also allowed to take care of myself in the way she is.”

This aspect of transparency is important for individuals with mental health issues because some days their symptoms might be worse than others. Instead of hiding their struggles and allowing their work to suffer, employees should feel they are able to be truthful with their boss and take some time to work on themselves.

“For me, the crux of changing culture in the workplace is that relationship between an employee and their direct manager,” Britz said. “That allows the employee to truly take care of themselves.”

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