CEOs are getting a new playbook for boosting workers’ mental health

Led by an A-list of C-suite executives, a new nonprofit is developing a playbook to guide companies in supporting employees’ mental health, and a free online clearinghouse for anyone seeking help .

Why it matters: Recognizing that burnout from the pandemic has reached even the corner office, Project Healthy Minds is trying to reduce the stigma of mental illness by encouraging CEOs to speak openly about their struggles — and implement meaningful policies.

Driving news: Project Healthy Minds is building what it calls the “first direct-to-consumer digital mental health marketplace” — a one-stop shop for finding a crisis hotline, a psychiatrist, a substance abuse treatment program or other related help.

  • “We want to build for mental health services,” said Phillip Schermer, founder and CEO of Project Healthy Minds, who previously helped map the mental health strategy at BlackRock.
  • A second mission is to partner with business leaders, celebrities and public officials who will speak openly about the importance of mental health — perhaps to them.
  • The third is to create national standards to guide companies’ mental health efforts — an issue of equal importance to millennials and Gen Z.

“In a knowledge economy, we need workers who are strong-minded and resilient,” Schermer said.

Who’s on board: Supporters of Project Healthy Minds include Bill Kolb, chairman and former CEO of McCann Worldgroup; Jeff Raider, co-founder of Warby Parker and Harry’s; Jacqui Canney, chief people officer at ServiceNow; and Brian Offutt, chief workforce innovation and operations officer at Weber Shandwick.

What they say: During the pandemic, “you have employees who are really on edge,” Kolb said, adding that several McCann employees have recently died by suicide.

  • Deeply shocked by those deaths, Kolb personally called the employee assistance program (EAP) hotline to test his company’s safeguards — and was put on hold for 12 minutes.
  • When someone was hired, “the first thing I had to do was not talk about the fact that I was going to kill myself, but say my employee ID number,” Kolb recalled.
  • After that, we “started doing things very quickly” to help, like offering the Headspace app and “Wellness Wednesdays,” where guest speakers talk about mental health hygiene.
  • The company also began training all workers to be “mental health advocates,” and to recognize emotional distress in colleagues and others.

“No matter how much brainpower, time or effort put it, there’s no silver bullet — no quick fix,” Kolb told Axios. “It’s a lot of things you have to do consistently, and not take your foot off the gas.”

Where it stands: McCann Worldgroup hired Project Healthy Minds to develop a mental health training program for its executive board and its next most senior executives.

  • “Kolb thought it was important for leaders to be trained in these topics,” Schermer said, noting that the curriculum was developed in collaboration with the National Network of Depression Centers.

By the numbers: A Project Healthy Minds survey found a disconnect between millennial and Gen Z workers’ expectations and what they’re getting.

  • 2 in 3 consider their mental health when choosing an employer.
  • Only half say their employer supports their mental health.
  • 77% say they would quit work if it harmed their mental health.

What’s next: Project Healthy Minds plans to compile a robust research library on best practices in mental health programs, and develop metrics against which companies can be evaluated.

  • There is a need for “standardized measurements” that prospective employees can look at, Schermer said.
  • Investors who evaluate companies according to the metric of “ESG” — environmental, social and governance practices — can use a company’s mental health policies as a way to measure its “social” performance. .

The bottom line: “We’re in the bottom of the first inning of a long game of reimagining what it means for companies to support employee mental health,” Schermer said.

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