By Kelli Tuggle, Chief Operating Officer, Grey NA
It’s unfortunate that it took a global pandemic to put mental health front and center for this industry. But we shouldn’t waste a single second lamenting the past. Instead, we need to pour all our energy into the future and this critical opportunity we have to course-correct and give our most critical asset – PEOPLE – what they need to thrive.
Mental health – and the accompanying complexities, inconsistencies, and serious health implications – has been a part of my personal story for as far back as my memory goes. It didn’t fully intersect with my professional story until November 2018. After years of struggle and months of ineffective juggling, I knew I had to start making different choices. For me that looked like four weeks, hyperfocused on my health and wellness. Was I “all better” on December 1? Not exactly. But it was the beginning; a critical first step and the start of an important growth period for me both personally and professionally.
Looking back at that decision in this moment and from a new vantagepoint with new responsibilities, I can’t help but feel grateful. Grateful for the unwavering support from my Grey family. Grateful I was able to ask for what I needed. And most importantly, grateful for a few key lessons that continue to shape me, my relationships and approach to leadership. I will never pretend to have all the answers for anyone’s personal struggle. But it’s true what they say, sharing is caring – and so much more. My little lessons below:
1. It’s not enough to normalize conversations about mental health. We must go one step further and recognize that in a business dependent upon creativity and relationships, an industry where humans are asked to create magic, mental health and wellness is an imperative that drives results. We still have too many people among us that believe caring for one’s self means work will suffer. My experience is that the opposite is true. Everything from my output to my ability to inspire action in my teams improves when things are in check.
2. There is an abundance of resources and help available, but you’ve got to take advantage. I’m proud of the progress agencies and holding companies have made when it comes to wellness and life-management tools and resources. From talk therapy to financial planning, I’ve found access to help I didn’t even know I needed. Are there still gaps – absolutely. But there is also a very real ambition to get it right. So if you or your teams have needs that aren’t being addressed, speak up and advocate! As leaders and organizations, we also need to do a better job making our people aware of these tools and simplifying access.
Over the past four years I have also discovered some of the EASIEST serotonin and dopamine boosters. Truth be told, for years I rolled my eyes at every single “wellness” practice. Turns out it CAN be as simple as getting outside or picking up a paintbrush (even if your artwork belongs in a kindergarten classroom). Close your eyes and breath for 10 seconds. Listen to music. Move your body. Don’t just practice gratitude – put your gratitude on display. And for the love of God find something to laugh about. If you can’t do that in THIS business, then where can you?
3. Boundaries and balance are deeply personal. There was arguably a time when Thursday happy hours and summer Fridays did a lot of heavy lifting when it came to employee experience, culture and fun. That time is long gone. Don’t get me wrong, there is value in those things, but we can no longer assume they check the right boxes. The wants and needs of our talent are deeply personal and specific to the individual. I’ve made the mistake of projecting my needs on others – and I have to do better. Look for ways to increase empathy and agility when it comes to managing the individual vs. the collective.
It’s not a surprise there is no one-size-fits-all policy or practice that brings work-life balance to the entire organization. There are, however, behaviors that reinforce the importance of balance, wellness and joy, in and out of the office. I encourage all leaders to talk openly about their own boundaries. What life hacks work? What brings you joy? How do you work best? In the past few years, I’ve made it a priority to kick off each new relationship or team with a candid conversation about work style, motivations, boundaries etc. Not only is this critical to my productivity – but it also sets the stage for others to do the same.
Prioritizing mental health does not have to be hard. But it has to be done. Open up, share a little, talk a lot, and find the fun. A little can be A LOT.