CEOs are Dealing With Two Mental Health Crises: Their Employees’ and Their Own
How to lead when the world is in perpetual chaos—and you’re struggling too
It was mid-March, still weeks before surging unemployment claims and the mounting death toll, yet the collective stress at Otter Products was already starting to bubble over. Confusion reigned among the Colorado-based smartphone-case maker’s 1,100 employees: What happens if someone gets sick? Or needs to care for a sick family member? Is it still safe to come to work? Is the company going to be okay? Will everyone be able to keep their jobs? How long will this last? “The anxiety,” recalls Otter CEO Jim Parke, “was palpable.”
Parke is accustomed to putting out tactical and strategic fires, not emotional ones. Now, he realized, he not only needed to focus on the survival of his business — Otter’s sales were about to take a serious hit — but a psychologically fragile workforce. “They needed more empathy, more communication, things they may not have been getting from other sources,” he says.
For workers, stress is bombarding them from all directions with no sign of relenting. Employees are on edge about holding onto their jobs (and their partners’ holding onto theirs). Those lucky enough to do so often find themselves with smaller teams, big deadline pressures, and larger workloads. If they are parents or caregivers, they’re simultaneously also trying to run a home school or care for older relatives. As states begin reopening their economies, there’s newfound stress about the safety of physically returning to work. And the backdrop of all this: the possibility that they or their family members may be sick with Covid-19.
And now, of course, there is a new source of anxiety, fear, and anger in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Black employees are exhausted, enraged and dealing with trauma. Millions of Americans are glued to their social media feeds and tens of thousands more are out in the streets at protests, often facing off against aggressive police forces, in cities nationwide. And absolutely no one has a clue as to when, or how, the chaos will end.
The daily pressures can feel relentless, says Y-Vonne Hutchinson, founder of Readyset, an…