Levi Strauss & Company raises the bar on how companies can support employee mental health

Why are so many employers reluctant to talk to their employees about the widespread mental health crisis in the American workplace? According to Mental Health America’s Mind the Workplace Report 2022, only a third of employees say their company leaders talk openly about mental health and wellness. But in Levi Strauss & Company (LS&Co)they are setting the gold standard for transparency and taking responsibility for employee mental health.

In recent years, LS&Co has brought employee wellness and mental health to the forefront of business. The company believes that it is up to them to respond to the need to prioritize the mental health and well-being of their employees. And that’s just for starters. This forward-thinking organization is doing what most company leaders fear doing: creating a human-centered work culture by speaking openly about their own mental health challenges.

I sat down with Tracy Layney, SVP and Chief Human Resources Officer at LS&Co, who explained how they are reshaping the company culture around mental health and wellness in the workplace. “If we’ve learned anything from the last 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. This unprecedented time we are experiencing has inspired and sparked important conversations around mental health and wellness and how we as employers can support our employees.”

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

“Many years ago, I went through the biggest mental health challenge of my career: I experienced severe burnout. For a long period of time, I worked nonstop, always on call, and never had an off button. Like many of us, this seemed like the right thing to do at that stage in my career when I wanted to keep growing and moving forward. But soon, the daily things I did to take care of myself mentally and physically were no longer working. This was new to me, as I always had a high work capacity, and was usually able to recover after intense periods. But eventually I got to a point where I was no longer recovering and began to feel the physical and mental effects of extreme exhaustion. I realized that the only way I was ever going to make a full recovery was to take a step back and prioritize my mental well-being. So, I took a gap year and 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 share my story because it shouldn’t come to this point for our employees. Since then, I have found ways to allow myself to be successful in my career, something that I love and care about a lot, but also allows me to stay healthy mentally and physically. From seeing a therapist, to 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 he would give an employee on the verge of burnout, and his response was to do what he did: prioritize his mental health. “It’s hard to listen to because you might think okay, if I could do that, I wouldn’t be here. And that’s how I certainly felt,” she explains. “But at that point do what you have to do to get back on track. If stress builds, get plenty of sleep, be with people who energize you, and don’t be afraid to walk away from your computer or turn off your phone. As a result of my personal experience, I am an evangelist for small investments in the things you do every day to avoid burnout. We have moments in our days, weeks, and years designed to recharge, and we should take advantage of them. I’m a huge fan of the reboot, and it can happen in the middle of your day. If you’re in a stressful meeting, even if you’re jumping into a Zoom call and walking to your meeting or have a customer in the store, take two minutes or 90 seconds and do breathing box or walk around the block. In five minutes you can reboot your nervous system and not take that stress with you into the next interaction.”

Layney said it’s the responsibility of employers to make sure workers don’t have to choose between career growth and health. She emphasized 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 you have with thrive globally to provide resources and tools to manage stress, improve focus, strengthen connections with others, and improve overall wellness.
  • Provide accessible and always-on resources: from Rally Wellness Training to virtual therapy through conversation spacethese tools can help reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression and support employees as they work to prioritize their mental and physical health.
  • Develop robust employee assistance programs – to provide immediate support from specialists to help with a variety of issues including stress, anxiety, depression, financial or legal questions, marital and parenting issues, substance abuse and more.
  • Making Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse Plans Available – To provide an employee benefits solution that can provide 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 loved ones.

I asked Layney what advice she would give to someone who works for an organization that might view them unfavorably if they shared a mental health issue. “We have been brought up not to talk about what happens to us, so we can assume that others will not be understanding,” she says. “Of course, there are work environments where people are not understanding, and we have to be realistic about that. But there are entrepreneurs who are more understanding than you think, especially since in the business world we have been seeing it in people’s homes for the last two years. We have seen your children, your pets. Hopefully, you have an HR team you can turn to for help. If you are in a mental health crisis, you should ask for what you need. And if it’s an environment that doesn’t support that, I advise people to find one that does.”

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 to go back to the old ways of thinking and working and pretending 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 they get meaning from the things that matter most to them: their family. , their community, whatever personal passion they have and they come to work every day and make a difference.”

In his parting thoughts, he told me: “This is the time for companies to understand the implication of the mental health of their employees, to ensure that there is meaningful work for everyone, and that people feel a connection to their company. It’s important for talent acquisition and retention, which we’re all thinking about these days. It’s our 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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