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How To Build a Culture That Supports Mental Health


As seen on, and written for Quotable Media CO, a company who supports female entrepreneurs.


 

It’s 2am, my youngest of 3 has just woken up with a bad dream, and now I lie awake trying to go back to sleep. My head is spinning with the 73 things on my to-do list today and my heart is already racing thinking about trying to get it all done. The dreadful sense of “there just aren’t enough hours in the day” consumes me. My anxiety levels are already high as I begin my day.


My alarm goes off at 4:45am and I jump into the shower craving the cup of coffee (or 4) that is brewing in my kitchen. Working in finance on the West Coast requires an early start and after confirming with our nanny who arrives at 5:30am all the details and logistics of the day I rush off to work, my brain working on overdrive trying to remember all the meetings on my calendar and if I am prepared for them.


At 3pm I rush out the door to do a school pickup, tip-toeing down a back hallway so my male colleagues who mostly have stay at home wives and can stay late don’t see me sneaking out “early.” And so the 2nd shift begins full of carpooling to/from activities, dinner prep, homework, showers, reading time, and then coaching a kid through a hard day at bedtime. Even with an equal and involved partner (and full time nanny), we were both drowning every day.


I lived this life day in and day out for years until a panic attack at work forced me to reevaluate if the pace of my life was sustainable. I spent a lot of time researching my corporate wellness benefits searching for help. Time spent researching leading to lost productivity. I also saw lots of doctors, therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, etc all aimed at solving for what chronic stress and exhaustion was doing to my body.


And then the pandemic hit, and after homeschooling 3 kids during the spring of 2020, I finally decided to give up my director title and high paid salary and take a risk on something that I felt truly passionate about:


Female founders, leaders, and professionals need access to more targeted resources and support to help them succeed in their careers.


Despite recent job gains, it’s estimated that 1.1 million women have left the labor force since COVID hit. A 2021 Indeed Study reports that over half the US workforce reported feeling burned out with women (and in particular mothers) being at higher risk. And according to a new World Economic Forum report, women started 49% of new businesses in the US in 2021. That’s up from 28% in 2019. Are women redesigning their careers and entering entrepreneurship post pandemic because corporate life no longer works for them?



Recent Gallup workplace studies cite that nearly 1 million people miss work per day because of stress, and that depression induced absenteeism costs US companies ~$75 billion annually when you include treatment costs. Now that is a lot of money for the bottom line!


61% of job seekers cited greater work-life balance and wellbeing as very important when seeking out their next job role. So, what are employers supposed to do to tackle our current “burnout epidemic?” What can we do as female founders to help shift the expectations of our 24/7 connected culture?


First, and at the highest level,

As a founder and business owner, ask yourself what is the culture you are trying to build? Andy Dunn, founder of Bonobos, and author of Burn Rate, writes “culture is your first 10 hires.” Are you prioritizing mental health and wellness as you hire and build out your company and culture? Being intentional and having this in mind as you scale will help you save money on employee turnover and costs in the long run.


Or if you are already working at a more established start up, could your mental health benefits be bulked up? Do you give staff access to a coaching program? Do you offer a wellness stipend? Are there generous parental leave policies? How do your benefits compare to your competitors? Are you losing out on talent because you are lean in this area?


Second,

Lead with empathy, and don’t be afraid to have an open dialogue with your board, investors, or your C-levels if you are struggling. The more transparency we have around burnout and its connection to our mental health and physical health, the more awareness we build.


Third,

Realize that burnout is cultural and that unless we begin to set better boundaries, our investors and bosses will ALMOST ALWAYS take our time (if we are willing to give it). So at the individual level it’s really up to us.


Identify your stress triggers.

A stress trigger is a recurring pattern that generally elicits a strong emotional reaction. By learning to recognize your stress triggers, you can implement strategies to reduce them before the reaction occurs.


Set better boundaries.

Time is equal, everyone has the same amount, 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 8,760 hours in a year. Yet there are many factors that influence how we spend our finite amount of time. Setting work/home life boundaries shows your leaders, your team, and your investors that you have a backbone and that you value your time outside work. Guard your time and calendar, pause before taking on an additional task and be transparent about personal appointments (ie picking up the kids or going to the doctor).


Avoid information overload

The human brain is in a constant state of distraction resulting in cognitive overload leading to increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). Information overload affects productivity, impacts our ability to make timely decisions, and essentially shuts down our brains. Try to focus on one task at a time, limit social media, turn off phone alerts, close down email, and limit the amount of tabs you have open at one time to reduce overload.


Learn to disconnect and actively relax.

Finding ways to actively relax brings us more joy, leading to less burnout, and better job performance. Actively relaxing is NOT scrolling through your phone, looking at social media or binge watching Netlfix. Try taking a bath, lighting a candle, reading a book for pleasure, going for a hike or walk, connecting with a friend in person, or enjoying hobbies outside of work.







SARAH SPERRY is a certified Executive Health & Wellbeing coach and a Fair Play Facilitator. Her personal story and struggle with burnout has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News and was what inspired her to start her own coaching business. Follow her on social media @sperrywellness or contact her at sarah@sperrywellness.com













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