Stress is present at every level of an organization. Trying to figure out how it affects us both as individuals and in our jobs is difficult. At some level, all of us know that stress takes a terrible toll on our health and ultimately how we are able to perform our jobs, but what we don’t know is how to figure out at what point stress will turn into anxiety and even depression. This is true of both employees and executives alike."CEOs need to aware of their mental health as well, " explains Robert Allen, CEO of New Dimensions Consulting Services, and author of Self-care Let’s Start the Conversation. "We have all heard the saying that it's lonely at the top and it's true. Self-care isn't often discussed in the executive suite, but it needs to be addressed and also redefined."
As a company would survey its employee base, the same holds true for executives. Allen suggests a quick survey asking specific questions with specific measurements.
- How is your stress level using a scale of 1 to 5?
- What times of the day do you feel more stressed?
- How is your work/life balance?
- How can the company make your time at work better?
Examing the answers can provide great insight into both the executives' particular situation but also the company’s overall culture. What was always considered a good working schedule, may turn out not to be. What is self-care to one person, perhaps flexible shifts, seems disruptive to others. These answers can be a great starting point to evaluate the culture that currently exists and open up ways to readjust and improve.
Leadership, the main responsibility of the executive suite, should be examined closely says Allen. He provides the example of working with a company whose leadership sessions were quite lackluster, with the majority of the leaders not paying attention during the meeting. Consulting with the COO, he asked to take over the first ten minutes of these meetings. Allen played music and posed ice-breaking type of questions, such as asking about favorite cartoons. Once the group relaxed and had fun, everyone was able to absorb the content of the meeting. In fact, with time, the first ten minutes of the meeting turned into a time to meditate and relax bringing stress levels way down. “The leadership of this company enjoyed the new atmosphere and brought that to the managers and down the line of the organization. It was a true culture shift,” says Allen.
The structure for this type of activity isn’t really all that different from what many in manufacturing already do which is getting to the root cause of an issue. Just as any company regularly checks on the health of its machinery or other assets, this method is in fact a check on the human assets. And just as many companies have safety meetings at the beginning of the day, Allen says to use that time to check on the health of the employees. “ Take a few minutes at the start of a group meeting to ask people how they are doing. It can make a great impact. It can start a discussion,” says Allen.
The next step is to take this data and analyze it to determine where the problem is, just as you would look at data to see where the machinery is breaking down. While human solutions are not as clear-cut as machine maintenance, there are many ways to readjust working conditions. There are several ways to move forward. “I suggest that leaders just walk around the company, much like the Gemba walk of manufacturers, and see for themselves what is going on,” says Allen. “Read the sign language. As an outsider, I can usually tell pretty easily the state of the culture.”
Companies can opt to bring in consultants such as Allen, but they can also hire what he calls Goal Coaches. These coaches can work to figure out ways to address the issues. An example Allen cites is a financial firm that has a psychologist, as a coach, on staff to work with stockbrokers to see where and how they get stuck. Sometimes it’s business processes or sometimes it’s something in their personal lives that need to be addressed. “Using a coach takes away a stigma that many people, including CEOs, have about discussing their mental health,” Allen points out.
Ensuring that the mental health of everyone, including the CEO, is an important goal for every company and self-care is an excellent tool to employ, says Allen.