Creating a Healthy and Productive Workforce

posted by Abby Glenn |

Mental health is a critical issue that continues to gain recognition and attention in the workplace. The pandemic has significantly impacted our lives, including the way we work, and has highlighted the importance of prioritizing mental health in the workplace. As more organizations prioritize employee well-being, mental health has become a key focus area for many workplaces. Employers are taking steps to support the mental health of their employees from offering mental health benefits to providing resources and training to managers and employees. In this rapidly changing world of work, promoting mental health in the workplace has become essential for creating a healthy and productive workforce.

In this Leading with Purpose segment, Abby Grasso, Executive Director at NAMI Montgomery County PA, and Kelsey Haas, YESability Chair, discuss parallels between mental health and remote work, advice and mental health resources, ways to check in on other people, and more!

Meet Our Speakers:

Kelsey: I chair Swoon’s DE&I YESability committee, which promotes equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities in the workplace. A big part of that includes mental health. As we know, most people are impacted by mental health in one way or another, so, Abby, I am very excited to hear your thoughts about how we can create a network and be there for each other in a remote environment.

Abby: I am a 25-year clinical service worker. I have worked inpatient and supported people struggling with suicidal or homicidal thoughts. Early in my career, I ran a shelter for adolescent runaways that I loved. I used to take my dog to work with me and help kids identify a promising future for themselves. I supported people in an outpatient role and within their homes as well. A lot of my work has been through families, but I think through the different places that I have been able to support, NAMI has let me help people in more significant ways. We get to support, educate and advocate for anyone impacted by mental health, which is all of us. I love it when someone says they do not know anyone with mental health problems. I smile because every year, one in five people is challenged by some symptoms of mental health challenges or is diagnosed with a mental health disorder. So, I am a huge advocate for talking about our mental health, just like we talk about our physical health. I live with anemia and can also tell you that the pandemic has brought some anxiety. So there have been hard days, and we should be able to talk about both things equally.

Kelsey: I could not agree more. As someone who suffers from extreme anxiety and some depression, it is something that I have been very passionate about, and I am working towards becoming more of an advocate speaking towards. I think the more open we can be in discussing the impact of mental health on all of us, the more comfortable individuals are going to be in coming forward to share their stories, asking for help, and, most importantly, just recognizing that we need to be there for others. We need to be a bit more respectful and understanding of some of the challenges that individuals may be facing that we are not fully aware of. A lot of that can go unseen, and it is essential to remember that.

Kelsey: Over the last few years, everyone has transitioned either fully remote, hybrid, or in-office, but we have all been impacted by the isolation that COVID caused. From your professional standpoint, how do you see that impacting the people in your network, and what are the parallels between remote work and mental health?

Abby: Before we jump into that question, I want to touch on the respect aspect that you touched on, Kelsey. One thing that I have seen more of since the pandemic is vulnerability and people being respectful of one another. For us to have this conversation, we have to be vulnerable. I have a wonderful colleague with whom I had a Zoom meeting about a month into the pandemic. Before that, we would always meet for coffee or go to the park and walk around, so it was a little strange to go from meeting each other’s dogs or having her teach my daughter how to drive to a remote meeting. We had all these life experiences together, and now we were not. So, during this meeting, she asked, Abby, how are you? I am one of those people who, when someone asks how I am, I usually come up with some response like “oh, you know, rockin and rollin,” or something silly like that, but this time, I told her that I was not doing well which opened up this beautiful conversation. Being vulnerable allowed her to open up about how she was not doing very well. It opened up a chat to discuss all the uncertainty, isolation, and anxiety that everything brought up then.

Regarding your question about working from home, I am the girl who will try to look for the rainbow or find that unicorn. At NAMI, we never identified as a company that would work remotely because we are a people’s organization. We are bringing people together. The pandemic made us creative, as it did a lot of companies, and I am sure Swoon was one of those as well. All of a sudden, you go from having everyone together to only seeing each other on camera or every couple of months when the pandemic started easing up and even now.

For some of my introverted friends, this is great, and they love working remotely, but for other people, socializing was a big part of their day. It is very isolating to work from home. Companies need to find a middle-ground that offers both options.

Kelsey: I lived alone and moved during the pandemic. So it was hard for me just to have conversations over Zoom. Also, I was about 20 minutes away from my network, and there were days when I was not leaving the walls of my apartment, so it was strange.

Kelsey: Moving to our next question, I suffer from extreme anxiety but noticed it was worsening throughout the pandemic. I had friends and some colleagues who came forth and said that they had never struggled with anxiety before and were seeing that they were having anxious moments or dealing with anxiety now themselves. From your standpoint, I am curious about your advice for people dealing with anxiety or what resources are available.

Abby: About a year and a half into the pandemic, a study identified that 1 in 3 adults in Pennsylvania is living with challenges surrounding depression or anxiety. Mental health comes on at any time. It could have been the pandemic, a traumatic event like a car accident, or isolation from people. The possibilities are endless. Still, we need to identify the changes in ourselves, like not remembering the last time we saw another person and realizing that we are disconnecting from people as the days go on. We think we are connecting because we are relaxing more, but we are just disconnecting. We need to recognize that our behavior is not normal and recognize when we may be pulling away from others. Connection is so important because we may have to have a challenging conversation with ourselves to say that we used to enjoy taking a walk at lunch, but you stopped doing that and instead just slump into the couch. It is having those hard conversations with ourselves and the people we love because maybe someone you love is pulling away. Perhaps it is having a virtual happy hour with people, and someone stopped coming. We can identify things, even through Zoom, like people’s behaviors changing.

I encourage people to be honest with themselves, and that is hard. With honesty can come judgment, shame, and thinking about how you cannot believe you let yourself get to this point. When we feel shame, we do not want to talk about it. Because we are taught to shove it down or deal with it, but it is okay to talk about those things. When we share these things, others open up too. It is a validation for us to know that we are not alone. I cannot stress this enough, if you start to see changes in yourself or others you care about, get help and support as soon as possible. NAMI is a national alliance. We have about 600 NAMI affiliates across the country. Also, if you look at the back of your insurance card, there is a specific number listed for behavioral health and substance abuse, so if you need help, check there and get in as soon as possible. Do not wait until you are in a crisis because our system is overstretched, and you might have difficulty finding help. Therapists are running a 6 to 12-week waiting list, and some are even longer than that, which is very unfortunate. So, if you are struggling or struggling with mental health, please begin getting in somewhere sooner rather than later.

Kelsey: How can we be better about checking in on others without feeling as if we are overstepping? That is a fear I have – someone being offended by me bringing up the topic of seeing a change in them.

Abby: You will hear me use the word intentional often, but we must be intentional about how we care for ourselves and check in on others. It has to be a priority. For example, one of my staff members recently went to work for NAMI national in a remote role when she moved to Florida, and when I checked in with her about a month after the move and asked how things were going, she said interesting. The team-building activities that we would do in the office were being carried over to a remote environment where she did not know anyone. Before she moved and joined the team, they started these activities as a small group who were already very familiar with each other, and now she was in this team where she did not know anyone she could trust. She did not know who would be her friend, that she would see shows with, or her coffee buddy that loves funky lattes like her lavender and cardamom lattes. So, NAMI National did something incredible when they started providing a coffee or tea break with someone on their team. It was a scheduled event that you would have coffee or tea on Monday from 9-9:15 am; that is how people could start building that connection in a remote environment. Another thing we would do was ask little team building or icebreaker questions where they force you to have that interpersonal conversation and then flow into something else, which was a really easy way to get to know everyone on your team without being in that office setting.

Kelsey: Do you have any advice on how we can better take care of ourselves?

Abby: Nothing is more important than work-life balance. People are my passion, and helping people is my passion, but it is not my life. At any job, I have tried to find a passion in it that keeps me purposeful and that I have worth in, but there are also pieces of me in the fact that I am a partner, a parent, an aunt, a sister, a neighbor, a Christian, a singer, a feminist, all the things that make me, me. So, it is essential to have that work-life balance. It is different for everyone because some people that work remotely are like, “I have the best work-life balance than ever because I am not commuting, can throw laundry in at lunch, etc.” and then there are others who are not that great at working from home and think it is the worst thing ever. So wherever you fall into those things, it is really about having that insight and being intentional in creating spaces to be productive and connected to be your best self at work. It is also essential that you prioritize self-care, which can be in the form of candles and a bath or psychologically taking a different route to the grocery store, or walking in the park for a bit. It can be spiritual, finding a place to meditate, going to your faith community, and connecting yourself to your higher power. Thinking about our emotional self-care is hard because it is very uncomfortable. We have not always been taught to feel our emotions, even the good ones, so now we have to figure out what your physical symptoms are that relate to feeling anxious. We have to be in tune with ourselves to help us know how to combat those symptoms and feel better.

Kelsey: Self-care is not a one size fits all. It is also not a one solution fits all. There are different versions of self-care depending on how you are feeling, where your mindset is, where your physical energy levels are, etc. For example, I go to the gym if I am anxious and have a lot of energy. If I am overwhelmed mentally, I take a bath and relax. Everyone’s bandwidth is different, and you must realize when you are reaching your breaking point. Hopefully, you can catch your feelings before they get too overwhelming, but having that knowledge to make yourself feel better makes all the difference.

Meet Our Speakers

Abby Grasso

Executive Director, NAMI Montgomery County PA


Kelsey Haas

YESability Chair