Levi Strauss & Company sets the bar high for how companies can support employee mental health

Why are so many employers reluctant to speak with their employees about the pervasive mental health crisis in the American workplace? According to Mental Health America’s 2022 Mind the Workplace report, only one-third of employees say that their company’s leadership talks openly about mental health and wellbeing. But at Levi Strauss & Company (LS&Co), they set the gold standard for transparency and take responsibility for employee mental health.

Over the past few years, LS&Co has placed employee well-being and mental health at the forefront of the company. The company believes it is their responsibility to address the need to prioritize the mental health and well-being of their employees. And that’s just to start. This forward-thinking organization is doing what most business leaders are afraid to do: create a human-centered workplace culture by speaking openly about their own mental health issues.

I caught up with Tracy Layney, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer of LS&Co, who talked about how they’re reshaping the company’s culture around mental health and workplace wellness. “If we’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that the old way of working just wasn’t working,” Layney told me. “The ‘always on’ mentality contributes to burnout, no matter what level of your career. These unprecedented times we are living in have inspired and started important conversations about mental health and wellbeing and how to which we as employers can support our employees.

She acknowledged that employees bring their whole being to the workplace and explained how LS&Co is building a holistic approach and understanding of mental health, including a culture rooted in empathy. Part of that includes sharing their own stories and struggles and being open with colleagues and teams, according to Layney. And here is the story of the mental health challenge she shared with me:

“Many years ago, I went through the greatest mental health challenge of my career: I experienced severe burnout. For a long time, I worked non-stop, always on call and never had a stop button. Like many of us, it seemed like the right thing to do at this point in my career where I wanted to keep growing and progressing. But soon, the daily things I did to take care of myself mentally and physically weren’t working anymore. This was new to me, as I still had a high capacity for work, and was generally able to recover after intense periods. But Eventually I reached a point where I was no longer recovering and I began to feel the physical and mental effects of extreme exhaustion. I realized that the only way to fully recover was to step back and give priority to my mental well-being. So I prayed It was a sabbatical and I sacrificed my potential career and financial growth to mentally and physically recover from burnout. It was the best decision I could have made for myself and my family. But it wasn’t easy. I’m sharing my story because it shouldn’t come to this for our employees. Since then, I have found ways to allow myself to be successful in my career, something I love and care about, but also to stay mentally and physically healthy. From seeing a therapist, getting enough exercise and sleep, to spending time with family and friends, we all need to prioritize our own mental health and well-being.

I asked Layney what advice she would give an employee on the verge of burnout, and her response was to do what she did: put your mental health first. “It’s hard to hear because you might be thinking well, if I could do that, I wouldn’t be here. And that’s certainly how I felt,” she explains. “But at that point, do whatever you need to do to get back on track. If stress is mounting, get enough sleep, be with people who energize you, and don’t be afraid to step away from the computer or turn off your phone. From my personal experience, I’m an evangelist for small investments in the things you do every day to prevent burnout. We have times in our days, weeks, and years designed to recharge, and we should take advantage of them. I’m a big fan of resetting, and it can happen in the middle of your day. If you’re in a stressful meeting even if you hop on a Zoom call and walk to your meeting or have a customer in the store, take two minutes or 90 seconds and do some box breathing or walking around the block. In five minutes, you can reset your nervous system and not take that stress with you on the next interaction.

Layney said it’s the responsibility of employers to make sure workers don’t have to choose between career growth or health. She stressed the importance of providing a work environment where employees can prioritize both their well-being and their work. This is what a human-centric work culture looks like at LS&Co:

  • Invest in ongoing partnerships like the one they have with Thrive Global to provide resources and tools to manage stress, improve focus, strengthen connections with others, and improve overall well-being.
  • Providing accessible and always available resources: from Rally Wellness Coaching to virtual therapy to Talkspace, these tools can help alleviate symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression and support employees in their efforts to prioritize their mental health. and physical.
  • Develop strong employee assistance programs: to provide immediate specialist support to help with a range of issues including stress, anxiety, depression, financial or legal issues, marriage and parenting issues , drug addiction, etc.
  • Make Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse Plans Available: To provide an employee benefits solution that can support access to the right care at the right time.
  • Prioritize paid leave policies and bereavement leave programs: to ensure that no employee has to choose between their job and caring for themselves or their loved ones.

I asked Layney what advice she would give to someone working for an organization that might view her unfavorably if she shared a mental health issue. “We’ve been socialized not to talk about what’s going on with us, so we might assume other people won’t be friendly,” she says. “Of course, there are work environments where people are not friendly, and we have to be realistic about that. But there are employers who are friendlier than you think, especially because in the corporate world we’ve seen them in people’s homes for two years. We’ve seen their kids, their pets. I hope you have an HR team you can ask for help. If you’re in a mental health crisis, you have to ask for what you need, and if it’s an environment that doesn’t support that, I advise people to look for one that will.

When I asked Layney what she would like to see in the future of work, she said the biggest mistake any company can make is going back to the old ways of thinking and working and pretending we It’s 2019 again. “We will have missed an incredible opportunity to make our workplaces stronger, healthier and more productive,” she noted. “Instead, what I hope for all of us is that we envision a better way of working and that people get satisfaction from their work and integrate it into their lives in a way that makes sense. to the things that matter most to them – their family, their community, whatever their personal passions and come to work every day and make a difference.

In her parting thoughts, she said to me, “Now is the time for companies to understand the mental health implications of their employees, to ensure that there is meaningful work for everyone world and that people feel a connection to their business. It’s important for talent acquisition and retention, which we all think about these days. It’s time to do something different to help everyone: employees, shareholders, customers. It’s good for business and it’s good for society.

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