Navigating Critical HR Issues for Organizational Success: An Executive Perspective on Mental Health

As I have been building my latest venture, which I will share here in the not-too-distant future, I’ve been consulting with various business leaders. It’s been interesting to observe that pre-pandemic, the top health insurance costs rarely included prescriptions for mental health-related conditions. Now, however, these treatment costs are the single largest element in health insurance.

Understanding and effectively addressing human resources (HR) issues is paramount to driving organizational success and maintaining a competitive edge. One crucial aspect that permeates all personnel challenges is the importance of mental health and well-being. 

Employee’s mental health issues do not start at work. They can be triggered or worsened by workplace stress, abuse, and other factors, but their roots generally originate elsewhere. Regardless, the effects of mental health challenges plague organizations and require the attention of the entire executive team. Unfortunately, these are not like fiscal year ends or one-and-done projects that can resolved according to a project plan or timeline. Rooting out the issues within an organization can have milestones and deliverables can be identified, but since the causes and behaviors are pervasive within society, we need to adopt the mindset that this is a continuous effort. 

Talent Acquisition and Retention

Attracting and retaining top talent is a strategic imperative for executives to build successful organizations. As candidates increasingly prioritize employers who demonstrate a commitment to employee well-being, demonstrating authenticity when confronting mental health challenges is key. The CEO must continually be mindful of, and vocal about the organization’s dedication to supporting mental health, such as offering comprehensive employee assistance programs (EAPs) and promoting work-life balance. 

However, the focus cannot simply be on programs and flowery verbiage. As I discussed in the book “Assholes Matter,” the emphasis must be on action. The workplace environment must be tolerant, transparent, and open. This begins with interpersonal communications and depends on how criticism and feedback are managed through a constructive process.  You can build individual people up through constructive criticism but destroy entire organizations through a single instance of negativity.

When the CEO is committed to establishing and maintaining the optimal workplace environment for people to thrive, and not simply focused on next quarter’s numbers, the COO, supported by the CFO, will be empowered to ensure that mental health supports are integrated into the entire organization, starting with the onboarding process and continuing throughout the employee lifecycle. To support the initiatives, the CFO must ensure that diversity and inclusion initiatives are adequately funded and that mental health resources are accessible to all employees.

Embracing Diversity and Inclusion 

Building a culture of belonging, diversity, and inclusion has become a strategic priority for forward-thinking executives, recognizing their impact on organizational performance, innovation, and employee morale. This culture is not manufactured; it is the lifeblood of the organization. The stability of an employee’s mental health is bonded to feelings of belonging and psychological safety in the workplace.  Every executive and manager needs to champion initiatives that foster a culture of equity, fairness, and respect for all employees, regardless of their backgrounds or identities. There is no moment in an organization’s lifecycle that “we are too busy” to pay attention right now is acceptable.  

Prioritizing Employee Well-Being and Engagement

Fueling productivity results in more resilient, engaged, and motivated employees. They are the lifeblood of any successful organization. Employee well-being and engagement is a strategic imperative, and initiatives are not connected to work hours, or limited solely to the workplace.  Operations can offer flexible work arrangements and promote work-life balance to support diverse employee needs, while also investing in comprehensive wellness programs that address physical, mental, and emotional health. However, these initiatives need to involve the entire family, as they are all interconnected.  An employee who is concerned about a family member’s mental well-being will have lowered focus and presenteeism, and as a consequence, they will underperform.  Destigmatizing mental health issues, and ensuring that an environment exists for people to say “I need help” or “I need to talk” is critical.  Often, simply speaking about our issues, and unburdening ourselves of their weight is enough to start seeing progress. The organization needs to ensure there are always channels available for open communications about any issues to encourage conversations about well-being. 

Leadership Development and Succession Planning 

Securing the future is the cornerstone of long-term organizational success, and mental health plays a crucial role in the leadership development required for successful succession planning. 

When considering the future, organizations should prioritize developing the talents of emotionally intelligent leaders who can create psychologically safe environments for their teams. The entire executive team and management should always be on the lookout for talented individuals who possess the desired skills and advocate for their advancement through targeted leadership development programs. 

Interestingly, leaders should consider having the Head of Revenue involved in mentoring and coaching future leaders. The Head of Revenue, more than any other leader within the organization, faces quarterly pressures to meet sales objectives that allow the company to flourish. This is the epitome of a high-stress role. If this person consistently demonstrates healthy work habits, is a model of appropriate behavior, uses supportive and constructive interpersonal communications skills, and prioritizes the well-being of everyone around them while accomplishing their objectives, everyone else in the organization will take note. 

Mitigating Legal Risks and Ensuring Compliance

Protecting the organization while navigating the HR regulations and compliance requirements is a critical responsibility for all executives. With a heightened attention on mental health and stress, considerations of the impact of management’s behavior are increasingly important in this context. It’s easy to make mistakes, but there are differences between inadvertent errors and wilful abuse. Either one can result in issues, but while an inadvertent error can be excused, abuse cannot. Abuse results from a cognizant failure to adhere to known standards, while a mistake is often the result of confusion or misunderstanding due to poor communication. If it’s abuse, the perpetrator is solely responsible, and it should be addressed accordingly

While the CEO must prioritize compliance with mental health-related laws and regulations, compliance is the minimum standard and does not demonstrate leadership. HR and legal teams must work with the entire team to ensure policies, procedures, and practices align both with relevant laws and regulations, and the aspirational goals of the organization. It is also critical that training and educational programs are comprehensive and clear for everyone to understand. As with everything in life, everyone must know that it is unacceptable to merely comply with basic standards.

Driving a successful organization forward requires leaders to go above and beyond expectations. An organization’s goals must not be limited solely to sales performance, or the organization will never function properly. By setting an exceptional standard for behavior and interpersonal communications, and adhering to the standards, an organization instills the necessary ingredients to support growth in people’s self-esteem, and the resulting growth in resilience will help reduce turnover. The reduction in turnover adds to a healthier bottom line!

A mindful approach to mental health issues is not an ESG compliance issue, nor is it a “nice to have” ideal. A focused approach that is grounded in human dignity and aspiration is key to organizational success. As such, HR issues are not just the concern of HR departments; they are strategic imperatives that demand the attention and action of executive teams, with mental health being a critical thread that ties them all together. 

By effectively addressing talent acquisition and retention by prioritizing employee well-being and engagement and investing in leadership development and succession planning while considering the mental health implications of each issue, executives can drive their organizations toward sustainable success. 

Executives who proactively tackle these critical HR issues with a mental health lens will be well-positioned to lead their organizations into a thriving future.