3 Local Tech Leaders on How to Destigmatize Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Month calls for greater focus on mental wellness in the workplace. Three local tech leaders tell us what their companies are doing to destigmatize these issues. 

Written by Olivia McClure
Published on May. 05, 2021
3 Local Tech Leaders on How to Destigmatize Mental Health
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While the pandemic may be slowly coming to an end, its emotional repercussions can still be felt keenly — especially in the workplace. And as a result, companies are rethinking the ways in which they support their employees’ mental health journeys. 

For leaders, combating mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, requires listening to employees’ concerns and acting on them. Some organizations might offer free subscriptions to wellness apps like Calm, while others may host virtual morning stretch sessions. 

In order for employees to benefit from such programs, however, they need to feel comfortable tackling potentially personal issues in a new environment. For Zscaler Global Benefits Manager Allison Doughty, destigmatizing mental health in the workplace begins with creating a safe space for employees to address their feelings and recognizing that each person’s needs are unique. 

“We know there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health,” said Doughty. 

In that spirit, Doughty and other tech leaders across San Francisco are stepping up their efforts to support employees, whether that means establishing an employee resource group (ERG) dedicated to mental wellness or setting aside entire days to let employees unwind and regain inner focus. 

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Built In San Francisco checked in with Doughty and two other local tech leaders to learn what their teams are doing to promote mental wellness in the workplace. 

 

 

Gretchen Newell
Workplace Coordinator • Braze

Braze’s platform enables businesses to deliver personalized, cross-channel customer experiences in real time. 

 

How have you created a culture where people feel comfortable having honest discussions about mental wellness?

We have several programs that are designed to help destigmatize conversations surrounding mental health. Our “HealthyMinds@Braze” ERG is dedicated to encouraging mental health discourse and provides check-ins for employees. During these check-ins, which are often in partnership with other ERGs that focus on mental health in their communities, employees are encouraged to speak candidly about their feelings and share a safe space with others. In our dedicated Slack channel, employees can discuss personal mental health journeys and experiences. This encourages team members to learn about and relate to their colleagues, and create a more open dialogue surrounding mental health.

 

What's one formal offering your company has that supports the mental health of your employees?

We recently integrated Modern Health into our benefits package, which includes a wide range of offerings that support mental well-being. We also offer “Wellness Wednesdays,” during which we schedule events such as meditations, yoga, essential oil tutorials, healthy cooking classes and speaker presentations. With these programs, our goal is to provide employees the tools they need to pursue mental well-being and create a safe space for having honest conversations about mental health.

 

We want our employees to feel like they can go to their managers to talk through any challenges they may be facing.”

 

When employees come to their managers to discuss mental health issues, how are those situations handled, and do you provide any training to help managers navigate these types of conversations?

We want our employees to feel like they can go to their managers to talk through any challenges they may be facing. Additionally, 24 Braze employees recently went through rigorous training to become Mental Health First Aid-certified in the workplace. Employees worldwide will be able to reach out to any of their MHFA-certified colleagues who have been trained to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance-use disorders. This gives our employees more options when it comes to taking care of their mental health. 

 

Larissa Licha
Chief of Staff in Product, Design, and Engineering and Co-President of Mental Health ERG RollAble • NextRoll

NextRoll’s marketing technology leverages machine learning and integrated data in order to help companies accelerate their growth. 

 

How have you created a culture where people feel comfortable having honest conversations about mental health?

Our management team recognizes that mental health is critical to ensuring the well-being of our employees, especially over the past year. In 2019, we formally introduced our mental health ERG, “RollAble.” We used RollAble to make mental help an integral aspect of our company culture, running several panels, allowing people to share their experiences and hosting a peer program among other things. This ERG gave us the opportunity to normalize mental health and demonstrate its importance in all of our lives. We’ve also been hosting sessions facilitated by experts to address and discuss some of the most significant concerns.

 

What's one formal offering at your company that supports the mental health of employees?

Last year, we introduced the Calm app as a benefit to help employees jump-start their mental health journey. We also asked people to share their experiences with Calm, including how it helped them and what they enjoy the most about it, which helped get others excited about it. So far, we’ve seen great engagement and feedback from those using the app. 

In addition to introducing Calm last year, we’ve also instituted companywide days off for mental health. And as part of our employee wellness program, we have hired an outside meditation and mindfulness coach to conduct bi-weekly, online sessions for employees.

 

Our people team has been focused on providing managers with tools and resources on how to best approach mental health conversations.”

 

When employees come to their managers to discuss mental health issues, how are those situations handled, and do you provide any training to help managers navigate these types of conversations?

Our people team has been focused on providing managers with tools and resources on how to best approach mental health conversations. The past year signalled a shift in how we perceive wellness, prompting us to hold check-ins with our employees, encourage time off and abide by a no-questions-asked policy when people need a day to reset. The company also created a self-care guide for both managers and employees that provides virtual tools and resources related to mental health. 

We’re currently establishing a formal training series for our managers to ramp up our mental wellness efforts. We also send out a company-wide sentiment survey to employees through Culture Amp that gives our people team a pulse on employees’ well-being. Additionally, we introduced “floating holidays” to encourage employees to take extra time off when they need it.

 

Allison Doughty
Global Benefits Manager • Zscaler

Zscaler’s security platform enables businesses to work from anywhere by creating secure connections between workers and their applications.  

 

How have you created a culture where people feel comfortable having honest conversations about mental health?

In 2020, we started sending anonymous pulse surveys targeted around employee health, especially mental health. We have used the information from these surveys to implement new programs and benefits, and we always include a question at the end asking if the employee needs someone to talk to and if they would like someone from the people and culture team to reach out to them. It makes a huge difference to do something as simple as reach out and offer time to listen, connect them with resources to help their personal situation and simply make sure they know their company supports them. In many cases, it gave employees the chance to have less intimidating conversations and realize that other employees may also be reaching out for help.

 

What's one formal offering your company has that supports the mental health of your employees?

During the pandemic, we rolled out a global wellness platform that focuses on five pillars of well-being: move, play, chill, eat and thrive. We know there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health. We've seen great engagement with meditation and mindfulness classes as well as team happy hours and trivia. 

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we are rolling out a companywide “mindfulness challenge.” Employees can sign up and earn points for completing tasks such as a daily five-minute morning stretch, written gratitude list and live meditation session. Seeing how they rank against fellow coworkers makes it more fun. 

 

We know there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health.”

 

When employees come to their managers to discuss mental health issues, how are those situations handled, and do you provide any training to help managers navigate these types of conversations?

We have provided managers many mental health training sessions throughout the pandemic, covering topics such as how to avoid burnout and how to identify overstressed employees. We also taught managers when to bring an employee mental health situation to the people and culture team. Additionally, we’ve had employee training sessions related to stress mitigation, mindfulness practices, life coaching, counseling and more. 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies

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