The “new normal”: everyone wants to find it, but firm footing in a world rattled by the coronavirus is elusive. For business leaders, redefining workplace culture against a pandemic backdrop means factoring in employee mental health. This is no less true for CFOs who manage employees vital to a company’s financial future and for whom mental acuity is a must.

An Evolution for CFOs

Before the pandemic, some CFOs might have seen themselves as less rooted in company culture, but the pandemic changed that. According to a study conducted by McKinsey & Company, the coronavirus ignited an evolution of finance leaders’ roles, including more social and cultural responsibilities. CFOs now report playing a vital role in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programs, for instance. The pandemic also means that CFOs have had to become quicker on their feet: the study reports a shift away from longer-term responsibilities and toward crisis management.

That includes the mental-health crisis. Employees are reeling from the aftershocks of illness, lockdowns, inflation, and uncertainty about what’s next. Some health professionals predict a long-lasting mental impact from COVID-19—Americans could take “at least a generation” to recover from pandemic-induced anxiety, depression, and trauma. Beyond social responsibility, mental health at work affects employee job satisfaction, turnover, and absenteeism. In other words, employee mental health may be fueling The Great Resignation.

Leadership May Be Overlooked for Mental Health Training

To meet the moment, CFOs must embrace their ability to inflect company culture. A study in The International Journal of Stress Management notes that mental-health education is often promoted at the organizational and employee levels but overlooked when it comes to leadership. According to the study, leaders who undergo as little as three hours of mental health awareness training (MHAT) report increased knowledge and decreased stigma around mental health issues. There are ripple effects to setting a compassionate, supportive tone: researchers found that MHAT can potentially decrease the frequency and duration of short-term disability claims, for example.

Language Key to Addressing Mental Health

Some CFOs see language as a key to putting philosophy into practice. In a workshop co-hosted by Make a Difference Media and Generation CFO, financial leaders cited a “lack of comfort” with mental-health terminology as a stumbling block. Giving finance leaders the language to talk to employees about a highly stigmatized issue, as through MHAT, creates trust. It also allows for better data gathering: when employees feel empowered to talk openly about their mental health, corporate leaders can quantify and create support for the reasons behind sick leave.

Finance leaders can also collaborate to ensure employee benefits packages provide mental health coverage. Corporate leaders play a crucial role, because they also train mid-level managers to raise awareness about available benefits. Otherwise, these resources can go underutilized.

No one can argue that the pandemic has broken down barriers between work life and personal life. This shift provides business leaders with an opportunity: the collective hardship spurred by the pandemic affords us all an opportunity to better acknowledge one another’s basic humanity and more fully serve one another’s needs. For CFOs, a part of this will be learning to navigate mental health in the workplace in a way that communicates care, sympathy, and trust in light of current challenges—and, someday, the world we face once the pandemic as we know it passes.

Is your organization offering adequate mental health support for all employees, including upper-level leadership? Find out by filling out this interactive scorecard, or visit our site for concrete steps you can take.

Published on July 20, 2022