Managing mental health is key for success

The ability to handle stress has overtaken leadership and problem-solving skills as the most-prized skill for employers, according to research by the Association of MBAs in 2016.
— Financial Times report, Oct 10 2017

The connection between stress, mental health, and success

What does handling stress well even mean? Does it just mean getting the work done without losing your cool?  The way I see it: The ability to handle mental stress = the ability to manage your mental health. Just like your ability to handle physical stress is a function of your physical health.

Managing your mental health is the NUMBER ONE skill for long-term success, and definitely the top skill for long term happiness. Especially because we’re in an era where the number of stressors and demands on our mind have increased exponentially, and where emotional skills are one of the few skills that can’t be automated.

Calling it 'managing stress' reduces this incredibly important skill to statements like 'just dont take so much stress', 'no need to get stressed', as if its as simple as that, as if its a switch we can turn off and on, and that we just need to learn to turn it off. While 'mental health' gets relegated to discussions around depression, anxiety, mental disorders, meltdowns…you get the gist.

We need to start talking about managing mental health in the context of work. A few decades back, studying business meant studying operations, marketing, finance and other functional skills. Today, business school is all about leadership and teamwork. I believe that the next wave of change, which has already started, will be about incorporating self-care and mental health skills into business curriculum. How can you lead others if you can't lead yourself?

Companies now focus on mental health to drive organizational success

The top companies in the world already recognize this, and run mindfulness and employee wellness programs, not just to check off some box for being a responsible and employee-friendly business, but because they want to succeed. They recognize that enabling their employees to be well is the number one requirement.

I was most struck by the story of a young man who worked at Starbucks. His parents were heroin addicts, he dropped out of high school at age 16, and struggled to hold on to any job because of his emotional outbursts. Then he got a job at Starbucks and it changed his life. By age 25, he was manager of two Starbucks locations with a salary and no debt. What did Starbucks do? Well, Starbucks depends on its employees to create a unique positive environment in their cafes, and for this reason they teach their employees to manage their emotions as part of their training programs. And just by learning to regulate his emotions a little better, this guy went from losing jobs to successive promotions. 

The non-profit I've been working with this year, Swasth, is another example of such thinking. The CEO hired us to coach his leadership team. But this isn't your typical 'executive coaching'. The agenda is each person's personal growth. Helping them discover and live to their full potential. Even if that leads them to realize that they don't want to work there. Sundeep strongly believes that if his team is doing well, the organization will do well. That there is no real divide between personal and professional, we are the same person at home or at work. We may have learnt to behave differently at work vs home, but we are governed by the same thoughts and emotions.

Whats the point? 

So lets start paying attention to mental health. Lets start focusing on it and working towards it like we work towards our physical health. People are forced to face it only when things go totally downhill or when they get burnt out. This is similar to people who start taking care of their bodies only when they develop illnesses and they’re forced to face the fact that they can’t live the lives they want without taking better care of themselves. But those who are motivated to live their potential are more proactive about their health.

Everyone wants to be successful. This is relevant to everyone. So lets start talking about mental health objectively, as just another variable that impacts success.

Lets shift the paradigm from 'If I need to pay attention to mental health, that means I’m not successful’ to ‘I need to pay attention to mental health in order to be successful.’