Mental health therapy in the C-suite: Should it be required for the job?
Mental Health Awareness Month, being observed in May, is an opportune moment for an examination of the role therapy plays in assisting business executives as they do their jobs; and if such treatment should be a mandatory requirement for C-suite leaders.
While some CEOs have dabbled in psychotherapy for years, the additional strain of running their organizations and workforces during the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic has led to a swell of interest from C-suite execs seeking more mental health support, according to sources.
That, plus the newfound expectation of staff for their senior leaders to be able to demonstrate empathy, be comfortable revealing their own vulnerabilities, and other fundamental changes to former traditional leadership philosophies triggered by the working conditions during the pandemic, has caused anxiety among many chiefs over the past two years.
“I manage a community of CEOs and we regularly discuss mental health, said Sam Jacobs, founder of Pavilion, a support group for business leaders with over 7,000 members”. “Many of us use some combination of our monthly group sessions, therapy and coaching to ensure we have the right mindset and that we’re focused on positivity and supporting our teams,” he added.
Even before the pandemic, the work-life balance trade-off CEOs made caused strain. Fear of failure was cited as a top concern by 90% of 200 C-suite executives surveyed in the U.S. by private equity firm Norwest Venture Partners — only 50% cited worries about revenue growth. More than half of CEOs and CFOs reported they’ve consulted with an executive counselor (32%) or seen a psychotherapist or psychologist (22%) at some point.
Add to that list of stresses: providing mental health support for entire workforces traumatized by the events of the last few years, planning for return to offices when employees are in open revolt about doing so full time and running organizations at a time when inflation is rocketing and Covid rates remain uncertain, and it’s no wonder some firms are pushing for all bosses to get some extra mental health support.
“I am a massive proponent of therapy for both personal and professional gain and have encouraged my colleagues to seek out and engage in therapeutic practices,” said Roy Banks, CEO of Weave, an integrator of business hardware and software. “For so long, the conversation around mental health in the workplace has been taboo. But when the pandemic hit and entire workforces were thrust into distributed – and sometimes isolating – work environments, employees began to experience anxiety and depression.”
“These feelings alone were overwhelming enough but, on top of the overall uncertainty of the times, began to evolve into unhealthy emotions best managed by a licensed professional – or else, if unaddressed, run the risk of potentially turning into unmanageable situations,” Banks added.
Surge in demand for therapy
The coronavirus crisis has led to a surge of new patients for therapists regardless of a person’s rung on any corporate ladder. An overwhelming 97% of therapy providers say the number of people seeking therapy for the first time has increased and 71% say it has increased “significantly.” The findings come from a new survey of licensed therapists conducted by the Grow Therapy network.
The top three causes of people seeking therapy were: anxiety, stress and depression, according to the study.
“Therapy has taught me the skills I need to manage my depression and accept who I am,” said Pam Zucker, the senior vp for marketing at Amobee, an advertising solutions provider.
“When I began my role in leadership I thought success looked one way. Therapy helped me understand the value all types of skills play in developing a successful culture,” she added. “What a leader needs is people around him or her that can be honest without fear and the leader needs to be an active listener. I have found that leadership is more about listening than talking.”
Good for business
Mental health experts agree that when CEOs, CFOs and other leaders focus on their psychological and emotional well-being, they can reach higher productivity levels and set a better example for their businesses.
“Therapy is our favorite pastime. It appears on our work calendars and we schedule around it. It’s a huge priority,” said Chris Danton, who co-founded brand consultancy In Good Co along with Kirsten Ludwig.
Danton credited therapy with playing a major role in deciding to start the business. And Ludwig has been in therapy on and off since she was 13 years old. “For me it’s a life saver and a big part of what helps me to be my best self,” said Ludwig.
Ludwig also touted treatment as a tool to tackle exhaustion brought on by stress. “It helps with awareness of self and others. Burnout is real, especially in our industry. We have personally experienced it so we try to be extremely mindful of it. It is about building a culture where it is OK and important to voice your challenges,” she said.
Danton has a similar viewpoint, “Therapy helps to improve your ability to set (and accept) boundaries, find constructive ways to share feelings, the list goes on.”
Weave’s Banks argues caring for one’s mental health is essential either on or off the job. He maintains that therapy should be used as a tool to help us become better people, both personally and professionally.
“As more and more companies provide the proper resources to help their employees conquer these struggles, whether it be burnout from their job or pressures from their personal lives, the more understanding we can be of one another,” he added. “Our jobs are a big part of who we are and where we spend the majority of our time, so being able to be open and authentic with one another is an asset versus a liability.”
While there is widespread agreement regarding the benefits of therapy, there has been a question asked of whether companies should force their CEOs and managers to get treatment as a requirement for holding down their jobs.
But for many people, whether or not to have therapy is, and should remain, a personal choice. Christina Gialleli, director of people operations at Epignosis, a learning technology firm, believes providing mental health support at work is important as a benefit, but making it a requirement for all people in managerial positions is too extreme.
“There are other strategies that can help CEOs and managers. For example, cultivating a culture of trust and open communication, and making soft skills and leadership training part of the job can be much more effective,” she said. “Being in a senior management position comes with a lot of stress and added responsibility, so offering one-on-one leadership coaching would be a less controversial and really helpful alternative as well.”