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Executives Must Embrace Mental Health Culture in a Startup Environment. Here's the Best Way to Do It. Covid-19 made plain the need for workplace mental health inclusion, but how can startups facilitate a space for it, along with overall wellbeing?

By Zane Landin Edited by Matt Scanlon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The conversation around Covid-19 has frequently been steeped in doom and gloom, but what goes too often unmentioned is that it has also fueled positive effects in the workplace. One of these is a new culture of empathy around the conditions of peoples' lives and their mental health. That latter topic had been stigmatized for decades, to a point where employees felt uncomfortable speaking about personal mental health experiences, but the pandemic accelerated the conversation and presented an opportunity to embrace employees' intersectional experiences, and not just the work they produce.

Commit to diversity and inclusion early

Since the main focus for entrepreneurs is to launch their startups and get off the ground, many may fail to incorporate diversity and inclusion during the early phases of development, simply because it doesn't seem like the priority. In fact, it's actually better to begin encouraging diverse communities before becoming competitive in order to create a more inclusive space, organically grow from differing perspectives and attract impeccable talent.

While this article speaks of mental health specifically, all communities are needed to strengthen a startup's overall message and workplace environment. Such a business isn't just successful because of an inspirational founder and product: it rises from an all-encompassing team and is based on what its members can create. Ultimately, the best work comes when employees feel empowered and inspired to bring their genuine selves to the table.

Related: What Leaders Get Wrong About Mental Health

It starts with a conversation

What is the first step to creating a culture of overall wellbeing in a startup? It begins with having a conversation. It can be difficult for people to share personal stories, and is virtually impossible if a space to do so isn't available. So, as an executive or founder, begin by sharing your story, which will provide teams with an empowering platform for following suit. You may be surprised to discover that once you share a story regarding mental health issues, a new sensibility will become embedded in the company culture. Addressing this topic consistently might include, for example, starting every team and individual meeting with a mental health check-in.

The primary goal of an executive is not just to lead a business, but so serve as a trailblazer — bringing innovative solutions to real-world problems. There will be numerous challenges along the way, but among the most important is creating a safe environment for employees. To form that kind of community, facilitate dialogue, funnel new ideas for organizational advancement and foster intrapreneurship.

Mental health strategy

Do you have diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) strategies that are accessible both internally and externally? If so, do they include mental health considerations? Many startups do not even have a DEIA team, but it's important to have one in order to propel an enterprise in the market space and create a meaningful work environment. As you form your strategy, think holistically about how mental health is manifest among employees, and conduct high-level research on what other companies are doing to address this issue.

Related: Low-Cost Mental Health Strategies That Yield Big Results for Company Revenue and Employee Happiness

Some things to consider as you engage in that process:

• Make it clear that it's OK to open up about a mental health condition at work. Even if someone is uncomfortable with disclosing their condition, affirm they can still ask for help whenever they need it.

• Does your strategy outline healthcare benefits and its mental health components? Potential employees have the right to know if your startup provides such benefits.

• Are you prioritizing accommodations such as workplace distraction/noise reductions, proper lighting and privacy spaces, as well as the equipment/technology to support them?

• Are you providing resources and training regarding stress and overall wellbeing?

• Do you conduct focus group interviews to identify organizational gaps to improve the experiences of employees?

• Lastly, employee resource groups (ERGs) can provide an additional space for people to mingle, interact and create synergy. Consider starting an ERG for mental health/disability to create that additional space for discussion and awareness.

Related: Shifting the Narrative: Entrepreneurs and Mental Health

Bringing it all together

At the end of the day, as an entrepreneur you want to create the best products and the best company. With a newly substantial focus on DEIA motivated by the pandemic, diverse communities are becoming more resilient, but they're also expecting the workplace to change. Even some of the most prominent companies in the world are fading away because of lack of diversity and inclusion strategies and initiatives. So, do the right thing to establish a more inclusive and equitable world, with mental health as an enduring factor. It begins with you.

Zane Landin

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder and CEO of PositiveVibes Magazine

Zane Landin is a graduate of Cal Poly Pomona who studied communication and PR. He is a passionate communicator and works at the National Geographic Society as an internal communications specialist. He founded PositiveVibes Magazine, which shares stories about positivity, wellness and mental health.

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