The business case for lowering stress, anxiety and depression in workers is becoming undeniable. There are two intersecting health issues at play: first, a diagnosis of depression may increase risk of developing heart disease. Second, having a heart attack increases risk of depression, according to research. So naturally it follows that if Americans spend 40 to 60 hours a week on the job, lowering the incidence of heart disease will strike at the heart of the workplace. If your employees aren’t healthy, your business won’t be healthy—a huge part of the American Heart Association’s message during February, which is National Heart Health Month.
Employers have a unique opportunity to stop the the #1 cause of death in women. While health organizations hope to help amplify that message today on National Wear Red Day, the work educating the corporate world on the dangers of heart disease goes on all year long.
The American Heart Association (AHA) organized a CEO Roundtable and commissioned an in-depth report for leadership titled Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis to make the case that change demands a multi-pronged, multi-company approach. The AHA task force represents more than 10 million employees and their family members. Armed with this report, the hope is that on National Wear Red Day and beyond, employers, particularly leadership, will take a serious look at how they can take a personal role in protecting workers’ health. Here’s how to start:
1. Get a View from The Ground
Jobs may not look stressful, but don’t be fooled. While not everyone is on the front lines of a raging fire, their bodies may be reacting as if they are. This is often called the fight-or-flight response. Significant stress sets off a flow of hormones that produce physiological changes. If this happens often, it takes a toll on the body. Learning to put the brakes on that stress reaction is one way to protect your body from daily stressors. It appears Americans are not doing a great job with that.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 17% of adults are functioning at “optimal mental health.” It’s likely that no one stays functioning at optimal mental health indefinitely.
2. Know A Fight or Flight Response When You See One
Once you feel that fight or flight response, you never forget it. I can recall a day at work waitressing when a demanding customer made my blood boil. (I’m sure his did as well), before my manager patched things up. I stood next to my manager and agreed that my customer’s meal had been ruined when I had spilled six strawberry margheritas on the steps up to the table. He told the manager the accident had left him shaken and spoiled his entire meal. Of course, the customer is always right. And as my boss spoke about how sorry I was for the accident, my body temperature rose, my heart pounded, and I felt my skin go red from head to toe. You can see that stress isn’t just soul-crushing, it takes a toll on the person physically, too. Multi-part studies both in the U.S. and the U.K have found that “depression and anxiety are more common in people with coronary heart disease than the general population.” Studies show anxiety also increased people’s risk of a future heart attack.
3. Watch for Workaholism
Stress sometimes turns up in the form of workaholism. In some areas, working nonstop is part of the culture, but it can easily develop into a full-blown psychological addiction. A recently published study of 16,426 working adults in Norway found that those with workaholism are at a significantly greater risk of having psychiatric symptoms. Psychology researchers, from the University of Bergen in Norway, determined that there Is also a link between workaholism and ADHD, OCD, anxiety, and depression.
4. Offer Your Help Personally
People often ask me, but how can I help as a CEO or manager? My answer is: Ask, How can I help? It doesn’t matter how high up on the food chain you are at your company. I used to work for a man who was president of a large publishing company. When an editor walked into his office, he knew they had a specific problem and they were nervous. The first thing he asked was: How can I help? This did two things. It showed that a huge part of leadership is helping others succeed and the second, that the problem needs to be crystal clear or else you won’t effectively solve it. The burden is on both parties to bring their best to the table. It works.
5. Be Self Aware
Don’t focus on the gaps in every situation. You’ll drain your battery faster than an iPhone in 10-degree weather. Stay positive but realistic. Try to shut down negative speak and use your sense of humor to get through tough situations. Complacency is a bad habit many leaders don’t recognize in themselves. It’s easy to forget that you don’t really know your staff’s perception of you when you don’t spend all day with them. Forget to think about staff mood and by extension you are essentially forgetting to think about corporate culture.
6. Finally, Make Sure You Really Buy-In to the Business Case.
The days of treating people like widget-makers is out. Good talent is worth its weight in gold. I’ll point you in the direction of a few well-crafted business cases that you can copy and share with fellow leaders. One is Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis. You would be hard pressed to find a stone not overturned in this 159-page report. Another valuable resource is the American Psychiatric Association Foundation report titled Making the Business Case for Mental Health.