Embracing Vulnerability in the Workplace

Redefining mental health conversations in the workplace.

Posted May 22, 2019

Tim Guow via Unsplash
Source: Tim Guow via Unsplash

My first job was as a psychology assistant for a child and adolescent clinician, and I cannot thank her enough for giving me a glimpse of what this beautiful world of psychotherapy looks like. I also learned a lot about exploring my vulnerabilities in the workplace. 

I learned about teamwork, responsibility, and assertive communication. Three components which I consider being crucial to any work environment. I learned how to voice my concerns and opinions, and I learned how to place boundaries between my personal and professional life – something that a lot of therapists struggle with. 

In both that and my following job, I was lucky enough to have a mentor and a boss that opened a space for vulnerability at the workplace. They both encouraged me to speak my mind and were constantly practicing empathy towards me. I felt heard, and this motivated me to do my best. However, I know this is not always the case. 

Mental health in the workplace

According to the World Economic Forum, depression is the leading cause of ill-health and disability. This mental health disorder affects around 300 million people worldwide. According to a study presented by the World Health Organization (WHO), depression and anxiety cost the global economy around $1 trillion dollars each year. 

The study concluded that some risks to mental health include: 

  • inadequate health policies.
  • poor communication and management practices.
  • low control over one's area of work.
  • low level of support for employees.
  • inflexible working hours.
  • unclear tasks or objectives.
  • unrelenting workload.
  • lack of team cohesion.

The data is troublesome, and millennials' and adolescents' depression rates are increasing as time goes by. Often, companies have resisted tackling mental health because they consider it is "time wasted" and "loss of money", but the recent numbers reflect the opposite. And, with death by suicide occurring at an alarming rate of 1 every 40 seconds, the time to reflect and take action is now. 

Exploring vulnerability in the workplace

Shame researcher and author Brené Brown has devoted her professional career to exploring vulnerability. Last year, she published Dare To Lead for people in leadership positions. In it, she discloses the importance of exploring vulnerability in the workplace. In her own words, "daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging.”

Throughout the book, Brown shares valuable lessons about leading from a place of vulnerability. She speaks about living BIG, which stands as an acronym for three concepts that need to co-exist with vulnerability: boundaries, integrity, and generosity

In a recent Forbes article, Jenn Lofgren synthesizes the four core skills that all leaders should have, which Brown's book englobes: 

  1. Rumbling with vulnerability. Being open to exploring tough conversations from a whole heart. Clear is kind, unclear is unkind. And acknowledging your own triggers to lead from a courageous place. 
  2. Living your values. Essentially, practice what you preach. You can't expect courageous staff if you are not being a courageous leader. 
  3. Braving trust. Learning how to set boundaries appropriately and generating a trusting environment for all. 
  4. Learning to rise. Learning to respond to fear and leading with example when things don't go according to plan. 

How to take care of employees' mental health

Now that we've covered how leaders can practice vulnerability through their own experience, let's talk about how to take care of employees' mental health. 

According to the World Economic Forum, companies can protect their staff's mental health from being aware, to creating a healthy environment for all, to giving staff members practical solutions. Ginger, a digital startup, has developed an "on-demand behavioral system" to address the latter. 

"The company originally thought about how they could use technology to understand better from a mental health start point," says Ginger's CEO Russell Glass. "There’s so much demand on behavioral health. We will not solve this problem with just providers alone or just technology alone. By combining these together we can solve this bigger problem."

As a product marketed for companies, Ginger's founders have developed an app that – within only 54 seconds – gives employees access to mental-health professionals to support their emotional needs. With a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), smart-goal setting, and motivational interviews, employees can get the support they need. The interdisciplinary team includes coaches, therapists, and psychiatrists to provide the best support for the patient. 

What happens if the employee needs more support than the app can provide? According to Glass, "if the coach recognizes, they activate a video-based session with the therapist, and will often conclude as a short-term-based therapy."

Companies like Buzzfeed, Pinterest, and Sephora have already used Ginger to provide mental health access for their employees. The results have been positive. "Investment in this type of service is a productivity boost, and we’re starting to see this shift, using data to drive this type of mental health investment," Glass argues. 

Technology-based mental health is slowly but surely becoming an asset for the community. Through the use of protected platforms and a mix of person-and-technology based interventions, companies and employers have an array of tools and resources to better support their employees' mental health.