To tell or not to tell: the view from the top

Jan 29, 2016

If you’re experiencing anxiety or depression, the question of whether to tell your boss can be tough. But what if you are the boss? While the stakes are arguably higher for leaders and business owners, you also have an opportunity to set the tone for your organisation.

Some leaders and owners live with mental health issues they’ve dealt with over a period of time. For others, the stresses and responsibility of running a business or being in a senior leadership role can take their toll. Regardless of the cause, around one in five bosses is likely to be currently experiencing anxiety or depression. And as this article asks, how much should a leader share when they’re going through a tough time?

Stigma is often a factor, with some senior managers worrying about career doors closing or a lack of understanding and support. As a result, they may choose to remain tight-lipped – soldiering on, steering the ship and maintaining a professional distance from employees. However, this can mean both the individual and the organisation miss out on the benefits openness brings.

According to David Grauwiler, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association of Alberta, practising ‘selective vulnerability’ can give others in the workplace permission to do the same – especially when it comes from the top. “Sharing stories of lived experience is where transformations happen,” he says.

Creating a culture of openness 

Being open about your experience can set the tone for the business, creating an environment where people feel supported to reach out when they need it. It also means you can access support as required – such as time out or flexible hours – and avoids the speculation and gossip that can take over when employees sense something’s up but aren’t kept informed.

What's right for you?

The decision to share or not is a deeply personal one, and how comfortable you feel is likely to depend on your overall workplace culture. You know your workforce better than anyone but if you need a hand deciding, we can help you weigh up the pros and cons. If you’ve elected to tell your story, it’s a good idea to plan out what you’ll share, when and where.

For more information on talking about your experience, head over to Talking about a mental health condition at work

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