As Mental Health Awareness Month has come to a close, it's important for us to continue to keep mental health top of mind, especially in our current working environment. Although many people are working in the comfort of their own homes, we’re seeing increased numbers of professionals experiencing high levels of stress since the start of the pandemic. Research shows that 78 percent of working adults say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life. And 67 percent say they have experienced increased stress over the course of the pandemic.
Not only does stress lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, it’s also been linked to serious physiological illnesses like heart disease, eating disorders, and high blood pressure, which is why it’s critical to listen to your body and know when you need time to focus on yourself.
LinkedIn is a great example of a company focused on creating a working environment that builds diversity and fosters diverse voices, especially when it comes to people who have different experiences. LinkedIn’s EnableIn Employee Resource Group supports that mission by building a community of inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities. Their work generates awareness, drives inclusive engagement, supports accessible platforms, and champions economic opportunity for people with disabilities and invisible illnesses. Led by leaders within the organization, EnableIn has created a platform that enhances work life balance and sheds light on people from diverse and differently-abled backgrounds. Helping to lead the charge is LinkedIn’s Lead Deal Desk Strategist for Central Operations, Clarissa “Clay” Harrison. Clay is the Global Program Lead for EnableIn, which has been supporting mental health awareness efforts within the LinkedIn community this month.
As someone who has lived with anxiety and depression for a very long time, Clay was inspired to get into the EnableIn leadership role to encourage others to feel comfortable having conversations about mental health. “I want people to know that it’s okay, to recognize that even though you have a job in a tech company, life isn’t perfect and that doesn’t always have to be the expectation,'' says Clay. ”I like to be in this space to represent as a Black, queer woman who has anxiety - to bring my unique perspective to the forefront of converstions surrounding mental health.” Clay has been using her personal experiences to strengthen intersectionality within LinkedIn’s programming to ensure that panels are diverse and helpful for people of various backgrounds.
What does Mental Health Awareness Month mean to you, and how do you implement your knowledge of mental health prioritization to support the EnableIn organization and efforts?
For me, Mental Health Awareness Month is just a reminder that everyone deserves compassion and care regardless of their challenges with mental health. I think our mental health awareness campaign, using the hashtag “#youarenotalone,” reminds employees that even in the midst of isolation, loss, sickness, and loneliness—they are not alone and there’s a lot of strength in knowing that there are others struggling with the same experiences. The programming I built really focuses on bringing people together and learning together what we can do to build a global community around mental health. This includes things like group meditation, fireside chats, and a whole bunch of speaker series throughout the month.
In terms of my own mental health and working habits, I have found that people get really overwhelmed because we know we should log off and shut down our computers at a decent time at night, we know we should work out and probably be in therapy, eat healthy, spend time with friends and family, but it’s a lot to juggle. I aim to do just a little bit everyday. Balance is everything, so if I’m having a really busy day, and I know I need to stay online a little longer than usual, I’ll make sure I’m at least eating really healthy foods throughout the day and staying hydrated, which is how I try to conserve my body on the busier days.
How does LinkedIn support efforts to create a healthy work life balance?
I think (LinkedIn) does a very good job of normalizing these conversations among employees and their managers. It’s very easy to talk to your manager about working hours and being honest about your limits. There’s been times where I’ve been like, “hey, I don’t think I need to work past 6 pm every night.” I’ve been able to disclose certain information to my manager that supports the working hours that are most suitable for me. I’ve been able to tell my manager that I have therapy every Friday, so I won’t be available at x time. LinkedIn also has a service called Lyra, which provides free therapy for all employees. We have no meeting days, and it’s also nice that they gave us a whole week off in April just to recharge, called RestUp week.
Amid the pandemic, two-thirds of people are not planning to take or don't know whether they will take a vacation, which has been directly linked to the high levels of stress that people are experiencing. A helpful tactic among friends and colleagues at LinkedIn is building a community of support within the company. EnableIn has been providing a safe space for co-workers to experience that social aspect that they have been missing due to the pandemic.
“We went from weekly happy hours, spending off-hours together, and even company trips, to drastically transitioning to little to no human interaction and it has been a difficult transition,” says Clay. “Missing that social interaction is a big shift for people, I think that LinkedIn is doing a good job of encouraging people to set boundaries, making sure they are logging off at a decent hour, and working to rebuild LinkedIn’s community, virtually.”
What are you looking forward to in building out these programs with EnableIn?
I want to give more people who have disabilities a seat at the table and a platform to speak. A lot of times, it’s very easy for companies to bring in these highly educated professionals, but I want to hear from people who have these disabilities and learn about what their experiences are like. I want to educate people about the correct terminology to use when speaking to and about people with disabilities—I think that’s something that’s missing.
What advice do you have for people who are trying to build out these types of programs within their own companies?
I would say, connecting with people is going to be crucial to your success. I also like to host brainstorming sessions with people who care about the same topic. No idea is a bad idea and I like to take five minutes for people to silently write their ideas. Some of our best ideas have come from these judgement-free brainstorming sessions. It can be very intimidating, so bringing passionate people together to talk about a common goal is always a great place to start. Starting somewhere with just one small step and a few people should be the initial goal. Even if you don’t know where to start, identifying one small thing is better than nothing.
What conversations is LinkedIn having within the company outside of the ERG work?
Our executive team has been very transparent about their own struggles with mental health this year and I feel like it has created a culture where people feel comfortable speaking freely about their own mental health in a judgement-free environment where it’s normal and okay, if you’re not okay. They’ve done a really good job at providing flexible and time-off policies, especially for people with families as well as supplying free mental health services for employees.
LinkedIn’s unique culture means your “teammates aren’t just your colleagues, they’re also your friends.” This has made the remote working transition difficult for many of Clay’s colleagues, which is why EnableIn’s programming has played such a major role in keeping morale high. A common approach that has helped Clay and her other colleagues has been managing expectations of workload. We’re all in this transitional period where we are learning to process this new normal of constant exposure to technology due to the lack of physical human interaction. For Mental Health Awareness Month, it was important for Clay to bring awareness to the new norm and create spaces where people can safely express themselves and process their experiences.