September 13, 2022
CEO, North America, Accenture
Suzanne P. Clark
President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
In this week’s Path Forward, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Suzanne P. Clark hosted a discussion with Jimmy Etheredge, Accenture CEO, North America, on how mental health concerns spiked during the pandemic and what businesses can do to help employees who might be dealing with mental health issues.
Path Forward, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event series, helps business and community leaders find the answers they need to navigate a post-pandemic world.
The Growing Mental Health Crisis and Changing Attitudes to Sharing
Several recent studies have shown that America is experiencing a growing mental health crisis, perhaps accelerated by pandemic-related pressures and anxieties.
There’s no doubt these trends are real, but one factor that may be increasing these numbers is the decline of the stigma around mental health issues and the willingness to seek help.
“It’s O.K. to not be O.K. It’s O.K. to talk about not being O.K.,” Etheredge said. “In the past, if this issue was ‘I just really feel anxious or depressed today.’ We would kind of just power through it. The pandemic has moved this discussion around mental health out of the shadows.”
Etheredge said he’s also seen a change in the willingness among business leaders to talk about mental health.
“Five years ago, during my conversations with CEOs, mental health probably did not come up,” he said. “Now, more of the discussion is not just around what the problem is, but the solutions and what kind of programs organizations can put in place to help.”
One of the bigger positive milestones which Etheredge noted was the launching earlier this year of a national suicide prevention hotline: 988. He said that simply having that number available—where callers in a mental or substance abuse crisis can contact trained crisis counselors 24/7 via call, text, and chat—was “a big step.” (In addition, people can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.)
How Employers Can Help Workers Achieve Better Mental Health
There are a number of strategies and tools employers can use to help employees who are dealing with mental health challenges.
“It starts with listening,” Etheredge said. “And the importance of validating without judgment… It’s not always about trying to solve someone else’s problem. Sometimes it’s about having them feel validated, that they’ve been heard, that someone listened and cares.”
Etheredge also said that it’s important for leaders to lead by example and balance being constantly on-call with making room for some “downtime.”
“Leaders have to role model the behaviors that they want their employees to do,” he said. “Giving people time to unplug, to recharge is important.”
Etheredge said that as a leader, he makes a point of not having lunch at his desk but taking 30-40 minutes to get away from his desk and eat lunch without reading or responding to messages. Other techniques mentioned were changing automatic email replies from “out of office” to “on vacation” messages and changing video calls to “old school,” audio-only phone calls, especially when it’s just a one-on-one call.
Etheredge added that one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic has been how more people are willing to talk about their own mental health, and more employers are starting programs to help them.
“The pandemic has helped leaders see the full responsibility to employees—not just financially—but how they help them with their physical and mental health,” Etheredge said. “Employers benefit when their employees are able to show up to work as their authentic selves, the best version of themselves. That’s when the most productivity is going to happen.”
Clark said that many leaders now face the challenge of balancing workers’ scheduling flexibility with convening them in the office.
“This driving to be in the same room has a lot of benefits, particularly, I think, around mental health,” Clark said. “All of us as leaders are trying to figure out how to get people the maximum amount of flexibility, but also to get them together—for professional development, for culture, for innovation, for new thinking, but also so we can put our finger on their emotional pulse.”
From the Series