Mental Health Awareness Week 2024: C-Suite Perspectives

In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week 2024, members of HotTopics’ community of C-suite leaders reflected on the connection between physical activity, mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.


Discussions surrounding mental health in the workplace have gained significant traction, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic shaped and influenced the way we work and interact. 


The pandemic forced a widespread shift to remote working, which blurred the lines between professional and personal boundaries and spaces, leading to a decrease in physical activity for many of us. According to UK mental health charity Mind, around a third of adults and young people have reported a significant decline in their mental health since 2020.


This situation is no different for the leaders up top—with the combined stress and increase in responsibilities for leadership roles, it comes as no surprise that 40 percent of C-suite executives considered quitting their jobs due to work-related stress.


In this context, the Workforce Institute survey also found that 81 percent of employees would rather prioritise good mental health over a high paying job. So, people are starting to recognise the importance of mental wellbeing and health in the workplace. But what is being done about it?


Mental Health Awareness Week 2024: C-Suite Perspectives


What is the Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 theme? 


With Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 (celebrated throughout May in the US) here, this year’s theme of ‘Movement: Moving more for our mental health’ serves as a reminder of the connection between physical activity and wellbeing. 


It could be just a lunchtime walk after a long day of staring at the laptop screen or finally using that treadmill desk you impulse-bought but never actually opened. As organisations continue to embrace remote and hybrid working environments, there is a greater need for C-suite leaders to prioritise mental health and wellbeing among their teams. 


C-Suite Community Insights 💬


To gain some more insight into this topic, we reached out to following technology and marketing C-suite leaders within the HotTopics community, essentially asking them about their views and strategies when it comes to promoting mental health awareness and implementing effective wellbeing strategies within their respective organisations:



Mental Health Awareness Week 2024: Overview



Mental Health Awareness Week 2024


Promoting workplace mental health strategies 


C-suite leaders play a crucial role in setting the tone for workplace culture. By becoming a key voice and openly discussing mental health challenges and wellbeing strategies, they are able to create an environment where employees feel comfortable to express and address their issues. 


Fergus Boyd, CTO at IP Dividual, discussed the importance of promoting wellbeing and mental health strategies in the C-suite: “It is essential. Leaders have responsibility for their teams, inside and outside work.” 


James Maunder, Director of Technology and Digital at Unite Students, said: “There is a moral imperative in that it is the right thing to do, period. There is also a business imperative: it underpins equity, diversity, and inclusion, and enables colleagues to be the best and most authentic version of themselves at work. That translates to value and loyalty.”


“If cyber security teams are affected by stress and burnout mental health issues, it affects the cyber resilience of the organisation, which means it's more likely to get attacked because the staff or the teams are not up to scratch to deal with these things.” 


Sarb Sehmbi, CTO of Virtually Informed and Chair & Co-Founder at the Mental Health in Cyber Security Foundation, stressed the importance of talking about mental health in the workplace. He stressed the importance of C-suite and cybersecurity leaders addressing mental health challenges. He noted that different teams and roles can affect the organisation differently, acknowledging that while many enterprises have wellness programs, specific roles, such as cybersecurity professionals, require special attention due to the critical nature of their work.


Good’ mental health strategies


What constitutes a ‘good’ mental health strategy?


“You can’t fix what you don’t understand.”


Tina Morwani, Director of Global Campaigns at Flexera, underscored the importance of a psychological risk management approach within the marketing c-suite in order to identify workplace “hazards” that affect team dynamics and, most importantly, mental health.


“Engaging with affected employees then helps you uncover the factors contributing to their mental health challenges and understanding how these factors manifested.” If equipped with the right data and information, Tina believes that leaders can implement a more effective action plan across various levels. 


To illustrate, Tina gave an example of workplace bullying: “instances of bullying within a department may indicate dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, but it’s crucial to delve into the underlying reasons… Consulting with managers, team members and HR can uncover issues ranging from recruitment practices and team norms to operational processes causing strain.”


Beyond structural and policy adjustments, Tina advocates for expanding support mechanisms—both preventive and corrective. This involves a more inclusive health insurance coverage, as well as access to mental health services and subsidised programs aimed at stress reduction and lifestyle management.


Mental health awareness and prioritisation


“As a woman of colour, it is almost a prerequisite to project an image of flawlessness, knowing that my errors may not be forgiven as readily as those of my white, male counterparts.”


Despite this, Tina doesn’t let this fear affect the way she leads her team. To illustrate that workplace wellbeing is on top of her list of priorities, she practises showing vulnerability and normalising a more honest style of leadership. “Making that the anchor for business or personal transformation can help us live healthier and more meaningful lives.”


Highlighting the necessity for genuine human connection, Tina criticised the normalised culture of emotional suppression. By advocating for the acknowledgment of and engagement with one's full emotional spectrum, including those aspects traditionally viewed as weaknesses or flaws, Tina argues for a more holistic approach to mental health. 


“We’re expected to ignore and turn away from our fears, from our anxiety, from feeling lost or small at times. So we keep it a secret. But secrets solidify things. And that’s the wolf we shouldn’t feed. If we’re willing to honour our feelings, particularly the ones we carry shame around, it ceases to be a boogeyman. It’s just another kid in the room.”


Wellness programs and physical activity


Dr. Leeya Hendricks, CMO, Board Advisor & NED at the The Fintech Marketing Hub, offered her thoughts on the importance of active leadership participation in workplace wellness: 


“Leaders can do more than just offer wellness programs; they can actively participate and promote wellness within the workplace.” One of the many ways this can be achieved is through the innovative integration of sustainability with physical wellness. 


For James, the key to encouraging wellness is leading by example: “Be visible in making time for this – make a point of leaving at 16:30 to get to a gym, yoga, swim, whatever class.”


For Leeya, this means promoting activities with minimal environmental impact, such as walking, biking, or participating in eco-friendly community events. Whatever activity alleviates the stress, she encourages leaders to capitalise on this and influence their teams to do the same. 


“For me personally, my physical and mental activity is rowing, I took up rowing a year ago and loving it, the rhythmic, meditative nature of rowing helps induce a state of mindfulness, significantly reducing stress and anxiety levels.”


Sarb discussed the impact of stress and busyness on people’s habits, particularly in terms of eating, sleeping and physical activity. “When people are stressed and they are busy there are certain things that they stop doing. One is eating properly, the other is sleeping properly and the third one is exercising and actually looking after their physical self properly.”


Sarb emphasised the importance of maintaining a healthy balance in these areas, especially within a team environment where colleagues can support each other. Noting that while physical activity is essential, he explained that mental wellbeing is also crucial. Sarb shared his own personal experience of finding balance during the COVID-19 pandemic, using a smartwatch to remind them to move regularly. 


He also highlighted the challenge of integrating mental health initiatives into existing enterprise wellness programs, suggesting that these programs, or “general wellness programs” may not adequately address the specific impacts of mental health on staff and organisational cyber resilience


Shifts in attitudes


“Organisations, leaders and individuals are recognising the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace and are actively promoting conversations, support systems and resources to facilitate mental wellbeing.” 


Leeya believes that there has been a noticeable shift in attitudes in recent years, with awareness efforts helping people stigmatise mental health issues. Fergus shared a similar view: “There is much more discussion about mental health these days and it isn’t a no-go area.” 


On the other hand, this journey can be lonely for c-suite leaders prioritising their team’s wellbeing before their own. To override this feeling Leeya suggested fostering a better sense of community and belonging by adopting the aeroplane-mask analogy: 


“If you run out of oxygen you can't help anyone else with their mask. Same applies in the workplace and managing your mental-health, if you as a leader are unable to help yourself, you will not be in a good space to effectively help your team.”


Taking on a similar stance, James said: “I’ve noticed more people regulating their career aspirations and performance with clear and unbreakable boundaries. For example, an unwillingness to work beyond a certain time even in emergencies.”


Advice for leaders


“My advice to leaders looking to prioritise mental health is to integrate it into the organisational culture from the top down. 


“This involves not only implementing policies and programs but also embodying the values of empathy, support and holistic wellbeing in everyday interactions and decision-making processes.” 


Leaders should foster a culture of open communication and support by checking in with team members and encouraging self-care routines (like switch-off time). Here, Leeya addressed the importance of disconnecting from work while out of office. 


According to a report by Buffer, more than 60 percent of remote workers said they check their emails during weekends, and 34 percent check work emails while they’re on holiday. Leeya also suggested a social media detox. Fergus shared a similar sentiment: “Cleanse your Social Media timelines, especially LinkedIn, of time-wasters and noisy idiots.”


Advocating for a significant shift in how organisations approach mental health and work culture, Tina emphasised the need to challenge traditional workplace norms—she suggested reframing the conversation to prioritise mental health, opportunity and inclusivity. 


“Entire professional lives that have worked in collocated spaces have been dictated by ‘You must commute in at this time’, and ‘you must commute out at that time’. You can only consider

what your life could look like between this hour and that hour, and over time, you become numb

to what would be possible if that weren’t true.”


Mental health booster songs and playlists 🎶🧠


I've normally got lots of music, everything from punk through to heavy metal.” — Sarb Sehmbi

One Republic - ' I ain't worried', it's an inspirational, empowerment and perseverance-theme song with a 'don't worry, be happy' vibe.” — Dr. Leeya Hendricks

Dance and Sing by Bright Eyes.” — James Maunder

'I am floored by Sanjay Leela Bhansali's artistry. His music is a spiritual experience'. — Tina Morwani

Traditional Irish music. Sad and uplifting at the same time.” — Fergus Boyd


(These answers have been edited and condensed)

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