January 12


What the Showtime Hit “Billions” can Teach us About Mental Health in the Workplace

By Sara Canaday

January 12, 2022

business leaders, career success, communication skills, emotional intelligence, leadership, leadership skills, professional success

It’s that time of year when business pundits and influencers are making their predictions for 2022. Perhaps that was in the back of my mind as I was watching Showtime’s hit series Billions over the holidays.

If you’ve never seen it, I can tell you it focuses on the shameless world of Wall Street hedge funds, and it is unapologetically spicy. But something in particular grabbed my attention—the role of Wendy Rhoades, played brilliantly by actress Maggie Siff. Wendy is the in-house performance coach at the firm, and she becomes one of its most valuable assets.

She helps the young, ambitious traders manage their anxiety, understand how their mental states impact their decision-making, and channel their energy to produce at the highest level. Her impact is undeniable, and you could easily argue that she brings in a significant amount of revenue by supporting the company’s employees.

Now for the kicker. Her business card might say “performance coach,” but she’s actually a psychiatrist. That’s right an MD with an MBA and plenty of corporate experience.

I was fascinated by that, especially since several 2022 business predictions mentioned an increased focus on mental health for employees. Someone like Wendy might be exactly what more companies need to help them navigate this new year, with all of its stress and uncertainty and complexities..

The Mental Health Crisis

Even before Covid-19, research showed shocking levels of stress among workers. Check out the findings from the 2019 Mind Share Partners study that surveyed 1,500 employed professionals working in for-profit, nonprofit and government organizations:

  • Nearly 60% reported symptoms of a mental health condition in the past 12 months
  • 50% of those claimed the symptoms were present for more than 30 days
  • 61% claimed their mental health issues negatively impacted their work productivity
  • About 33% claimed that mental health was a contributing factor for why they resigned

(That percentage jumped to 50% among Millennials surveyed and a whopping 75% of those in Gen Z.)

Add in two years of a global pandemic and all the related economic volatility, and it’s safe to assume that mental health should be a top priority for organizations in 2022.

The Challenge for Leaders

First things first… I fully support leaders being more empathetic and sensitive to the needs of their team members. At the same time, I don’t think leaders should be expected to play the role of counselor. They are already stretched beyond limits, and the vast majority of them aren’t equipped to handle some of the psychological issues that emerge when people are highly stressed, extremely anxious, or completely burned out. Successfully providing that kind of guidance requires years of professional training and experience.

So, what’s the answer? Here’s my perspective on the situation.

The Solution for Companies

Smart companies in 2022 will take a proactive approach to this growing mental health crisis. Since Wendy Rhoades isn’t actually available, they will consider hiring their own in-house psychotherapists, psychologists, or counselors. They’ll beef up their benefits packages to include a variety of subsidized or fully covered digital solutions to support mental health needs. Plus, they will expand their talent management ecosystems to monitor for signs of mental distress and establish programs to help prevent it.

If that sounds like an expensive proposition, I’ll toss in this statistic that may change your mind. A 2018 article in Harvard Business Review cited research that indicated every $1 spent on supporting those with mental health issues returned $4 to the economy. Not a bad return on investment!

Bottom line, your company will only be as productive, innovative, and successful as the collective minds of your team members. Taking steps to protect and support those minds is like having an outstanding insurance policy. None of us knows what’s ahead—think 2020 and 2021!—but mentally healthy team members will be in the best possible position to respond and thrive.

How is your company handling mental health issues for its employees this year? I’d love to hear what’s happening in your organization.

To learn more about this topic, I hope you’ll join me on February 1 at 11:00 a.m. CT for a LinkedIn Live with Dr. Allison Chase, a licensed psychologist and Regional Managing Clinical Director with ERC and Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Centers.

We will be discussing ways leaders can protect their mental health and the mental health of their employees. And in February, I’ll be sharing tips and suggestions that leaders can use to promote mental health for their team members without slipping into the role of counselor.

Until then,

Sara Canaday

About the author

Sara began her journey working full-time while she earned an MBA. As she climbed the ladder of corporate America, she repeatedly observed a surprising phenomenon: the most successful people weren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ or best job skills. She recognized instead that career advancement was much more closely linked with how people applied their knowledge and talents — their capacity to collaborate, communicate, and influence others.

Today, Sara is happily fulfilling that commitment as a keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. These venues have given her the opportunity to mentor and support thousands of people in diverse situations, inspiring many of them to move from insight to action with dramatic career results.

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