Every month, Kepler hosts a voluntary, company-wide meeting to discuss important topics affecting diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. These conversations help us examine what we can do to ensure an ever more diverse and equitable culture at Kepler, and we believe the advertising industry as whole would benefit from considering these challenges to true equity at work.
We’re at a critical pass for mental health at work. In a 2021 report by Mind Share Partners, 76% of full-time workers in the U.S. reported experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, a 59% increase since 2019. The stresses of the Covid-19 pandemic and the political climate of recent years likely added to the existing strain many workers were already experiencing prior to the pandemic, creating a mental health crisis in the workplace.
What does mental health have to do with diversity, equity and inclusion?
Mental health and DEI are closely connected. According to a recent Forbes article, employees who do not work in an inclusive workplace are more likely to face unconscious bias, microaggressions and other stressors that can negatively impact their mental health. At the same time, employees who do not feel included at work may be less likely to ask for help or for mental health accommodations. A truly inclusive workplace should not only be a welcoming environment for employees of every background, but should also be a place where all employees feel comfortable making their mental health priority.
How is your mental health?
Like putting your own oxygen mask on first, checking in on your own mental health can help you better support those around you. Among employees coping with mental health conditions, most (59%) reported suffering from burnout, while depression (46%) and anxiety (40%) were also top complaints, and numbers of U.S. workers coping with depression and anxiety have increased dramatically since 2019. Are you feeling stressed or even burned out?
In a recent presentation to Kepler employees, Dr. Kennette Thigpen Harris, a corporate mental health consultant and CEO of Welltrust Partners, helped define the difference between stress and burnout by their symptoms.
While symptoms of stress may include a heightened emotional state, including anxiety, or a sense of urgency, people who are burned out may feel depressed, disengaged and emotionless, lacking motivation or hope. Even if you are only experiencing symptoms related to stress, prolonged stress can lead to burnout, so wherever you lie on the spectrum between stress and burnout, taking care of your mental health should be a priority.
Dr. Thigpen Harris recommended that anyone who is feeling stressed or burned out should give themselves permission to not be okay, especially if they’re in the habit of ignoring their own needs to fulfill responsibilities at work or at home, and take time to refuel and recharge. Practicing gratitude and positivity, engaging your mind and body, and rediscovering your purpose can also help with recovery from a period of poor mental health.
The Mayo Clinic recommends focusing on an exercise regimen, getting good sleep, and reaching out to your supervisor for help managing your workload or other workplace stressors if you’re burned out or suspect you’re headed for burnout. But if employees aren’t adequately supported by their manager or employer, these steps can be difficult, if not impossible.
What can employers do?
Perhaps the most important thing employers can do to support the wellness of their employees is help break the stigma around mental health by making mental wellness a company priority that’s reflected in company policies and by the behavior of company leaders.
- Set a good example at the leadership level
Managers and other senior leaders can set the example for good mental health practices by making time in their calendar for the things they need to feel their best—including time for family and friends, exercise or speaking with a therapist—and proactively encouraging their employees to do the same. Several Kepler leaders even make a point of including their therapy appointments on their public calendars to help less senior employees feel more comfortable taking time out of their day to look after their mental health.
- Train managers to recognize burnout
Many experts recommend that employees reach out to their managers for help when they’re feeling overwhelmed or burned out, but some may still feel afraid to ask for help or worry about appearing weak. By training managers to spot signs of burnout in their direct reports, employers will be better able to proactively reach out to struggling employees and help them balance their workload or take advantage of mental wellness benefits.
- Offer time off for mental health and wellness
Taking a break is one of the most important ways to cope with burnout or make sure a period of stress doesn’t lead to burnout, but employees may be hesitant to use their paid time off for a mental health day. This is especially likely in workplaces where paid time off is limited. At Kepler, we offer unlimited PTO so employees can take the time they need, when they need it, and we require employees to take 5 days of PTO every six months to make sure they’re taking advantage of that time. Even then, some stressed employees may have trouble disconnecting from their work or worry that they’re missing out on something important while on vacation, so this year we offered three company-wide mental wellness days to make sure the whole team took time off at once to focus on their wellbeing.
- Provide wellness stipends
Mental health care can be expensive. Offering a dedicated stipend to be spent on services that support employee’s physical and mental health can help more employees afford the help they need. At Kepler, we offer employees a $100 a month stipend to put towards anything from therapy copays to gym memberships.
- Empower employee resource groups
Employee resource groups (ERG) can help employees find support from colleagues who have similar experiences or life circumstances. ERGs can help parents, women, employees of color, LGBTQ+ employees and others find community and allies. They can advocate on behalf of these employees to help influence company policy so all employees feel that their needs are recognized and supported. All ERGs at Kepler provide much-needed support to employees, and our Mental Health and Wellness is specifically dedicated to making sure mental health remains a company-wide priority.
An inclusive workplace supports all employees, including those who struggle with mental health occasionally or chronically. In order to provide that support, employers need to be willing to have what Dr. Thigpen Harris calls “more candor and more unashamed conversations” about how mental health and work impact each other.
“Talking about mental health in the workplace is long overdue,” says Carolyn Powell, Leader of Kepler’s Mental Health and Wellness Employee Resource Group. “Our ERG has become a safe space for team members to share their thoughts, feelings, and ongoing challenges. Having a space to talk without judgement with others who have similar experiences is a key piece of the puzzle. People realize they are not alone in their struggles, and are grateful to be part of a company that supports their overall well being.”
The more support employees receive from their colleagues and their employer, the more comfortable they’ll be bringing their whole selves to work.
“The mental health discussions we’ve had at Kepler have been some of the most helpful to me personally,” says Justin Roberts, Director of Kepler’s DEI Center of Excellence. “Instead of feeling ashamed of the therapy sessions I was booking on my calendar with “busy” holds, I’m proud of the “Therapy” time slots that have taken their place this past year. The corresponding grace I’m given from my colleagues to attend them and the openness I’ve found in sharing what I learn has made me feel like a more authentic version of myself than I ever have in a professional environment before.”
Kepler Group is constantly growing and actively seeking diverse talent to fill our open roles.
Kepler is also addressing the barriers of awareness, access, opportunity and hands-on experience in its Kepler Academy program, designed to help diverse candidates land and thrive in digital marketing roles.