Is Your "Work Family" - The Next Extended Family?

Over the past decades we have seen the decline of the traditional extended family due to many reasons. The rise of the "Information Age" ushered in a whole new era of mobility and career opportunities. Having two grand parents living in our home put more eyes on me, which was certainly a good thing. While they were additional discipliners which I needed, they were also two people I could go to for help and support. Most children today live in a home with only one or two working parents, with the grand parents living hundreds of miles away. While the focus is often on improving a families income, there is often a mental health cost.

As a CEO I felt a large population of our employees where coming to work with a significant mental health challenge. Most corporations would not want to touch this topic and hoped the employees would call a 1-900 number and use the EAP (Employee Assistance Program). The excuse most corporate leaders used was "these are private medical issues so we can't discuss internally". To me that is a cowardly way to deal with a major challenge facing many of your employees. I also believe companies are missing a real opportunity to help others, build loyalty, and improve employee productivity. It just takes some leadership from those who have been granted leadership roles.

While many CEO's would not be comfortable talking about their own mental health challenges - I feel very differently. Some CEO's may have been lucky to avoid significant mental health issues, but many CEO's feel they have to appear "flawless". Regardless, many of their employees come to work every day wrestling with their own (or loved ones) mental health issues. Why shy away from such a pervasive issue facing our society and organizations?

While our Town Hall meetings were mainly about business - I made sure employees knew the company cared about their mental health. Sharing my personal stories was the starting point. Whenever I shared a personal mental health story, I did it to make sure they did not feel alone. I also did it because I want those facing significant mental health issues believe they can become successful business leaders. Those who suffer from significant mental health issues can receive effective help and become extremely productive.

You first have to realize conditions like bipolar disorder and addiction do not "go away" or become "cured".  Initially, becoming a successful CEO or leader may not be "top of mind". However, as you receive effective treatment your life can begin to improve. The younger you get effective treatment the better. My realization and acceptance came later in life - but I have still enjoyed an amazing life. 

How can your Work Family help? There are many ways beyond publishing a 1-900 number in the employee handbook. Executives can lead by sharing personal stories. The organization can support local mental health organizations and encourage employees to join. Employees can become "mental health ambassadors" on topics they are passionate about. An ambassador offers up their time to share their knowledge and help direct people to resources. They are not health care providers, but they can be a resource to help people find health care providers. I have found just listening to employees is a great first step to helping someone. If you suggest various resources for help, that can be a great second step. In future blogs I will share some amazing stories of executives and employees sharing their stories. 

Sharing your personal story can be extremely powerful, but I understand there can be an uncomfortable feeling of being exposed. I suggest to everyone to first seek good help for yourself. Once you are feeling up on your feet - help others who face similar challenges. I have found helping others is much more enjoyable than riding in 600 mph private jets and/or expensive sports cars. The good news is they are not mutually exclusive. 


Douglas ColbethComment