Executive View: Mental Health Suffering in the C-Suite

By Dana Wilkie July 6, 2022
Executive View: Mental Health Suffering in the C-Suite

​Much has been written and discussed lately about employees' mental health.

COVID-19, political and racial unrest, economic uncertainty and, most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade have all pummeled workers with complicated emotions and stressors, leading to depression, anxiety, low productivity and more.

We seem to hear less often about mental health in the C-suite, almost as if company executives don't have relatives who got sick during the pandemic or didn't get sick themselves. As if, because of their status and earning power, they are somehow impervious to the market's wild swings or landscape-altering social upheaval.

A recent survey revealed that, in fact, a larger percentage of executives than their employees are feeling overwhelmed, lonely and depressed.

"Although far less attention has been paid to well-being among the C-suite—how they're faring, the increased demands placed upon them, and whether these factors are influencing their desire to stay in their leadership roles—some recent research points to increasing quit rates among executives," wrote the authors of the survey, which was commissioned by business consultancy Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence, a Boston-based executive leadership consultancy. The survey canvassed 1,050 C-suite leaders and 1,050 employees this past February.

Can a Voice App Detect Mental Health Struggles?

Imagine a voice app that could monitor the tone, pace and volume of a worker's speech patterns. It would use an algorithm to listen for signs of stress, anxiety or depression in a worker's voice. The idea is to get ahead of the curve on suggesting and providing mental health support.

Such applications exist, although for now, they are relatively rare in the workplace.

David Liu, the CEO of Sonde Health, a vocal biomarker company in Boston, compared the new technology to the information provided by smartwatches. The voice monitoring apps are not diagnostic.

"We aren't going to tell you, 'You have anxiety' or 'You are clinically depressed,' " Liu said. Rather, the app may inform a user: "Over the last three weeks, we've heard signs of stress in your voice, and it's getting worse."

Obviously, there are privacy issues and other concerns associated with the use of such apps at work.

"Although far less attention has been paid to well-being among the C-suite—how they're faring, the increased demands placed upon them, and whether these factors are influencing their desire to stay in their leadership roles—some recent research points to increasing quit rates among executives," wrote the authors of the survey, which was commissioned by business consultancy Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence, a Boston-based executive leadership consultancy. The survey canvassed 1,050 C-suite leaders and 1,050 employees this past February.

Overwhelmed Generation Z Wants Mental Health Days

A recent Talent MS and BambooHR survey found that more than 8 out of 10 employees from Generation Z want their organizations to provide them with mental health days.

Survey respondents from this generation listed "burnout/lack of work-life balance" as the second biggest reason why they would quit their jobs—eclipsed only by the No. 1 reason, "unsatisfactory salary."

The American Psychological Association heralded this problem nearly four years ago in a report titled Stress in America: Generation Z.

That report revealed that "Gen Z is significantly more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor, with 27 percent saying this is the case."

The good news from the 2018 report is that because the stigma around mental health challenges has eased, younger workers are more likely than older ones to take advantage of employer-offered mental health resources such as employee assistance programs.

Mental health days "are specifically geared toward stress relief and burnout prevention," a Monster.com article explains. "While one or two days off will not solve severe underlying issues, they can still offer workers with that much needed break to pause, recharge, and come back with a fresh new perspective."

Organizations have several options for providing such mental health days. They can be deemed extra time away, separate from vacation time. Or companies can require that their workers take all their vacation days each year. In addition, some business leaders have decided to shut down operations for a given time so workers can have a "mental health break"—much as LinkedIn, Bumble and Hootsuite recently did when they announced a paid five days off of work for all employees to prevent burnout and allow workers to recharge.  

An Executive Describes Her Child's Mental Health Challenges

In a recent column in Forbes, a senior human resources leader who is a member of the Forbes Human Resources Council drew parallels between her sixth-grade daughter's "bumpy" experience during school last year and the employee experience.

What with "starting at a new school, class rotations, new and changing friendships, the ever-changing Covid-19 safety protocols, [and] the loss of a grandmother," wrote Sherry Martin, her daughter struggled with anxiety.

"I am thankful she asked for help to navigate her anxiety and lean on the support structures available to us," Martin wrote. "Through all of these challenges, her academics thrive. This experience made me wonder what type of workplace allows an individual to bring their whole self to work? How can leaders of an organization create a work environment that accepts the whole person? 

"The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for mental health resources and wellness. How can mental health and wellness benefits be added without increased cost? How do your employees and their beneficiaries understand the benefits offered to make the best-informed choice?"

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