Industries worldwide have experienced sea changes over the past few years. With the onslaught and after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, industrial distributors and manufacturers  have had to figure out plans for remote/hybrid work, as well as deal with the ebbs and flows of the global supply chain. Companies are changing their playbooks in response to the rapid rise of technology, particularly the growing influence of artificial intelligence.

Perhaps the biggest challenge has been managing people — not just in recruiting and retaining talent, but in providing a workspace where employees are happy, feel heard and enjoy their work. Discussions about workers’ mental health have ramped up in recent months, said The Granite Group’s Chief People Officer Tracie Sponenberg. In large part because not talking about mental health right can have a severe, negative impact on a company’s high-performance culture.

“I think it’s something we we certainly don’t talk enough about at in any organization,” Sponenberg said. “And we don’t definitely don’t talk enough about it in our industry.”

During the latest MDM Podcast, Sponenberg joined mental-health-at-work specialist Melissa Doman and MDM Program Manager Spencer Gale to discuss why mental health is a vital business conversation; how distributors and manufacturers can address growing mental health expectations; and the benefits that can result from mental health support.

Doman said addressing mental health goes far beyond just bringing up the subject on the clock. When mental health is being impacted — regardless of whether it happens solely on the job — it can impact workers’ performance. And the effects go far beyond the walls of a single desk or cubicle.

“I see it as a critical business conversation, not just a well-being conversation,” Doman said. “Which is how it’s often positioned in businesses and why a lot of people see it as something as an optional checkbox or a nice-to-have, as opposed to something that is critical to not only employ health and well being but also performance and functioning at work. How they collaborate with each other and how they do their job. So, to me, it’s kind of a well-done, we-should-include-that. But I tend to look at it in a more-concrete and business-application perspective, as opposed to just a wellness perspective.”

Conversations about mental health in the workplace have been growing in recent years.

In a recent 1,500-respondent survey provided by The Hartford insurance company and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, just 32% said they feel comfortable talking with coworkers about their mental health struggles. Among the respondents, 41% said their employers provide a flexible schedule that would allow them to seek mental health services.

The results also suggested that workers of color are less likely to feel comfortable discussing mental health at work. According to the survey, Black workers are more likely to categorize their mental health as fair or poor, and they’re less likely to say their work environment is inclusive and open. For Hispanic/Latino workers who responded to the survey, 55% said they felt comfortable “being their true self at work,” compared with 72% of the white workers who responded.

And according to a recent American Psychological Association study, 81% of employees want to work for a company that values mental health and offers supportive services.

Creating a culture where workers see their mental-health concerns validated can be challenging — especially for blue-collar, heavy industrial segments. Luckily, that’s changing, Sponenberg said.

“If we look at it both from the employee and the employer perspective, if you’re struggling with your mental health, it’s incredibly difficult to bring that conversation to your boss, or if you even just want to talk about that, or bring that conversation forward in some way,” she said. “That’s really, really hard. And it’s also really difficult for employers to know what to do. So, in industries like ours, which I don’t want to stereotype — but you know, largely male, historically — we don’t tend to share a lot about feelings in the workplace. And that is changing for the better, and I love that.”

MDM’S SHIFT Conference, held Sept. 18-20 in Denver, brings together distribution leaders to learn and network across topics of sales & marketing, digital transformation, data analytics and talent management. Doman will host a “Why Mental Health at Work Is a Critical Business Conversation” fireside chat on Sept. 19 and lead a panel discussion later that day. Meanwhile, Sponenberg will speak as part of the opening tactical workshop on Sept. 18, as well as lead culture panel discussions on Sept. 19 and 20. Find more info here.

Check out the full episode via the audio player above, and find all of our past MDM Podcast episodes here.

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