Fostering Good Mental Health and Top Performance in Today’s Changing Workplace

June 10, 2020

DS Blog - Keesa Schreane, Refinitiv - Feature Image

This article first appeared on the Refinitiv Perspectives blog. Re-published with permission

Keesa Scheane, Director of Partner Management Sales & Account Management, shines a spotlight on fostering good mental health and top performance in today’s changing workplace.


  1. Workplace microaggressions may not pose a threat to our physical health, but they can threaten our mental health – and our livelihoods.
  2. Support, kindness, respect, and compassion shouldn’t be the exception if we want to foster good mental health for everybody in the workplace.
  3. Watch Refinitiv Perspectives LIVE – Working with anxiety: A career path as Refinitiv employee, Toby Amis, shares his experience dealing with anxiety, and Stacy Thomson, founder of The Performance Club, provides tools and strategies to help manage old and new pressures as well as how to deal with microaggressions that are detrimental to mental health.

Never has the need for a new corporate culture and a commitment to kindness and tolerance in the workplace been more urgent as employees adjust to remote working and other coronavirus-related imperatives. Experts say an unpleasant work environment can lead to social isolation, and even to substance abuse or suicide. That’s true even when the office is now your desk at home.

Mental health is key to peak performance, but how can we achieve it when – in addition to other factors – many of us function in spaces where unethical behavior, insensitive language, and microaggressions persist? How can we be healthy when colleagues are uncivil or lack compassion?

Microaggressions

Microaggressions – which include equivocal comments, direct insults, retaliatory threats, and outright refusals to work with someone – take a toll. I know people who have had difficulty getting colleagues to share information that is pertinent to their work, or whose requests for project reviews or collaboration were ignored without explanation, damaging the culture, the mental health, and the productivity of their teams.

Is it realistic to hope people will check disrespectful behavior at the door when they come into the office?

Mental Gymnastics: Understanding Different Rules of Engagement

Are the rules of engagement at work different from those outside the office? Is office conduct different from street conduct? Workplace microaggressions may not pose a threat to our physical health, but they can threaten our mental health—and our livelihoods.

For underrepresented people in positions of leadership, microaggression is a familiar challenge. A conversation may begin with such a leader discussing areas for improvement on an assignment, responding to poor performance, or suggesting a different approach to solving a problem.

A microaggressor might respond to these suggestions in a manner inconsistent with the tone of the conversation, or repeat a misinterpretation of the original recommendation. I call it a misinterpretation because the microaggressor either repeats a similar statement but with a glaring omission, or presents a negative slant that was neither alluded to nor intended.

Belittling, bullying behavior also takes the form of ignoring or refusing to acknowledge another person. A leader can politely challenge a microaggressor on a business perspective, or deliver a logically sound, collaborative argument. The microagggressor might ignore this and move in another direction—often supported by others in positions of power—undercutting the leader with the unspoken statement that “You are not my boss.”

How Do We Move Forward?

In today’s changing business landscape, adherence to principles around respect and recognition will be needed for businesses and their workers to thrive. Here are five ways we can support our mental health, and the health of others:

  • Think before acting or speaking. Take a five minute break before responding to a contentious message, or count to ten before dealing with an immediate encounter. Whether there is a big decision involved or just something you want to “get off your chest,” a thoughtful approach helps you communicate clearly and focus on the issue at hand.
  • Seek to understand. Asking the right questions is an effective way to get the right answers. Taking others’ ideas seriously improves the chances for a successful outcome. When a colleague knows you value them and their opinion, a relationship can be built on mutual respect and trust.
  • Contribute. Adding value can be as simple as listening to someone or offering to pitch in on a project that wasn’t directly assigned to you. Doing so in all interactions, even the smallest, can boost morale and generate a ripple effect of benefits. Be a giver.
  • See the highest possibilities in people. When working on a project, we tend to keep the end goal in mind to motivate us and maintain enthusiasm. The same applies to people. Seeing a colleague’s potential or the possibility of what everybody can achieve when working together as a team helps us act with patience and kindness.
  • Set intentions. Establishing clear intentions for a project, a business partnership, or a role is a great way to ensure that our behavior remains consistent with our desired outcome. Key to this is being clear about our personal principles, after which we can commit our daily intentions to guidance from that “North star.”

Improving mental health in the workplace

Support, kindness, respect, and compassion shouldn’t be the exception if we want to foster good mental health for everybody in the workplace. We may not get it right all the time, so grace comes into play. But grace must be accompanied by action, accountability, and measurable progress. Achieving sound mental health requires a communal effort from workers, customers, and everybody in between.

What principles or values do you feel corporate leaders need to exhibit to support the mental health of teams in the future? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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WATCH: Refinitiv Perspectives LIVE – Working with anxiety: A career path.