Why mental health matters as much to business leaders as to employees


Visionary leaders recognise that having a mentally healthy culture is the #1 priority for employees when evaluating their workplace. This top rating was confirmed in recent Atlassian and PwC research, which also showed that 69 per cent of those surveyed would turn down a promotion if it compromised their mental health.

During Mental Health Month, future-ready leaders recognise that they play a crucial role in creating a winning culture, and central to this is leading by example, and not being afraid to be vulnerable.

Mike Schneider, CEO of Bunnings, has shared with his team members how hard it was for him when their expansion into the UK was unsuccessful. He explained that he needed assistance from a mindset coach to cope with this significant setback. He encourages his team members to seek help if they or their family are struggling and regularly interviews physical and mental health experts, broadcasting these sessions to all employees. Despite an incredibly challenging retail environment, Bunnings has performed very well and has been rated the number three most trusted brand in Australia during the pandemic.

Ellen Derrick, Managing Partner of Deloitte Management Consulting, is open about the challenges she has with her daughter Kate, who lives with cystic fibrosis and diabetes. Ellen often explains how much she has learnt about resilience from her daughter. When Kate was hospitalised this year, Ellen shared her crisis well-being plan on a LinkedIn post including cutting herself some slack, taking care of herself first so she can take care of others, finding joy at the moment through friends, music, and comedy, keeping her schedule as normal as possible. The responses to this post from other Deloitte’s employees and clients showed how much she is admired and supported.

When Steven Worrall was appointed Managing Director of Microsoft Australia, he also needed to support his father dying at home from cancer and his mother with dementia. Not surprisingly it was a big test of his mental health which led him to talk frankly about his challenges with his team. Physical exercise and mindfulness are key elements of his own well-being plan. Being in the turbulent technology sector, he has made the mental health of his employees a top priority. This has been rewarded by 93 per cent of Microsoft employees rating it a great place to work.

Steven is also the inaugural Chair of the Corporate Mental Health Alliance, a group of CEOs and other senior leaders committed to improving the mental health of their workplace. They are business-led and expert advise. Not surprisingly, Schneider and Derick are also foundation members of the group.

These stories were revealed in my interviews with senior leaders for The Caring CEO podcast. All 20 CEOs interviewed this year shared that the last 18 months had been very challenging for each of them and their employees. It is not surprising when Lifeline revealed that they recently had their busiest call volume days in their 57-year history.

The traditional view of a CEO as someone invincible and who has all the answers just doesn’t cut it in the new world of work. What happens when a manager admits they are not invincible, and makes self-care and mental health a priority?

One study of 19,000 employees showed that only 25 per cent felt that their leader modelled self-care and sustainable work practices. That one in four leaders’ employees were shown to be 55 per cent more engaged, 72 per cent higher in well-being, and 77 per cent more satisfied at work. They also reported more than twice the level of trust in their leaders.

The #1 predictor of a mentally healthy workplace is having leaders who practice self-care, team care, and aren’t afraid to be vulnerable.