Be mindful about mental health

By Bill Rock

Many family businesses focus on creating long-term value and place significant importance on supporting multiple stakeholders, including their employees. For these family business leaders and owners, employees are like family. And, right now during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns, many employees are suffering. While much emphasis is appropriately placed on physical health and economic needs, mental health may be neglected.

At the start of the pandemic, our own businesses rightly focused on making the work environment safe from COVID transmission and ensuring that as many team members as possible could work remotely. However, as a family business leader, I’ve struggled to understand what role I, and the board, have in supporting the mental health of our team. Pre-COVID, I would see our team in the office and could better discern how they were doing. But today’s video calls, meetings and check-ins provide much less insight into the well-being of individual team members.

However, those video calls do provide short windows into people’s lives. I see some of our team trying to juggle demanding jobs while simultaneously focusing on helping their young children learn remotely (and as a parent of two young girls, I empathize with this challenge). Others, whose jobs require them to work onsite, are trying to arrange care for their children and find ways to supervise them if their school has shifted to virtual learning. I see some team members working while caring for aging parents who are at high risk for COVID or caring for family members who have contracted the disease. Others on the team are living and working alone during lengthy lockdowns. All of this takes an emotional toll, and the usual coping strategies we all use are greatly constrained by the inability to socialize as one normally would.

Prioritizing the mental well-being of employees is not just the right thing to do. It can have long-term financial benefits for the company. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year at a cost to employers of $17 billion to $44 billion. “Organizations that prioritize employee mental health can reduce the number of workdays missed, enhance worker productivity and ultimately improve their bottom line,” says Dr. Michael Silverberg, director of behavioral health medical education at Main Line Health.

I had always thought mental health was a taboo topic both at the dinner table and in the boardroom. But, over the last few years, its importance has been heightened and its stigma greatly reduced, making the conversation easier to have. And it’s a conversation that needs to be had — especially for family business owners and leaders, who are generally closer to their employees than other business owners and leaders tend to be. Although the solutions implemented by different organizations may vary based on what is right for them and their employees, how to support the mental health and well-being of the team should to be on the agenda of every upcoming board meeting.

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January/February 2021

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