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Article - The mental wellness of staff affects business performance, and leaders must learn to establish effective ways to support their teams.

By Paul Willis

The old-school mentality was to leave your personal problems at home. But in a year that has introduced a pandemic and a divisive election, emotional states are more fragile than usual—across the board.

A Cleveland Clinic study found that since the outset of the pandemic, 55% of adults have experienced a mental health issue in some form. That includes feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation and other similar psychological barriers. The number rises to 74% for adults aged 18 to 34.

“If this isn’t an issue in your organization, it will be soon,” said Claire Collins, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Education for Princeton Properties, during NAA’s APTvirtual session, “Mental Health in the Workplace: Let’s Talk About It.”

The rental housing industry is among the most people-centric professions, but that doesn’t make the apartment world immune from mental hurdles. In fact, the energy exuded in maintaining various interactions throughout the day could take an additional toll in some instances. 

“The great news is people within our industry, we love our jobs,” said Amy Kosnikowski Dilisio, Motivational Speaker and Principal of Quintessential Marketing & Training. “But as we’re serving customers, we’re helping investors and serving our team members, there’s definitely a price to pay for stress, anxiety, compassion fatigue—and not to mention life in general.”

The combination of factors undoubtedly can have a pronounced effect on an individual’s mental health inside and outside the workplace. That puts the onus on leaders within organizations to bring about awareness and offer resources for associates who might be struggling during the workday.

It can be a challenge, because many associates will choose to direct mental health challenges inward, even when something is clearly upsetting them.

Overcoming Stigmas

“A big piece of ‘can’t talk about it’ is that there’s a stigma out there,” Kosnikowski Dilisio said. “People in America, we’re so proud of who we are and how hard we work. But there’s this dark cloud of disgrace, this stigma, if someone is having a mental health crisis or challenge. They don’t want to be judged, they don’t want to lose their job or not be seen as a collaborator at the top of their game.”

Kosnikowski Dilisio believes one way the industry can make headway is to bust any myths about mental health and get passed any associated stigmas. Part of that is instilling the idea that treatment is available and can help. The panel pointed to the efforts of Delta Air Lines, which made first aid for mental wellness part of its curriculum for employees prior to the pandemic.

Collins noted that an increase in requests for emotional support animals during the pandemic is one of many clues that the pandemic has taken a psychological toll. Swift Bunny, which measures employee engagement through surveys and recommends strategies, found that 52.6% of employees either “totally agree” or “agree” that they are worried how their lives will be impacted in the future.

A Recommended Approach

The panel recommended an ask-listen-act approach, and to relay to associates that it’s OK to not be OK. And despite the antiquated notion that taking time to discuss non-work matters in the workplace hinders productivity, addressing mental health onsite could have the opposite effect.

“We're in the people business, and our people are the reason why residents decide to live with us and decide to stay with us,” Collins said. “So, supporting the people within our organization is really where our profitability can be made or broken.”

Data from the American Journal of Psychiatry supports that idea, as increased absenteeism, loss of production and heightened employer-related healthcare costs have an economic impact of $193.2 billion. To that end, it’s vitally important for leaders to identify areas where they can offer support for emotional wellbeing—and in what manner.

“You can plant some seeds. If they don’t want to talk now, maybe they’ll want to talk later,” Kosnikowski Dilisio said. “It’s OK to not be OK, but it’s not OK to not get assistance. That’s where you as a leader, your team is your number one priority, so let’s really show it.”

Paul Willis is a Content Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.