Thought Leadership

3 Strategies for Fostering Brain Health at Work — It Starts at the Top

May 2, 2024 | Brown & Brown Insurance | Thought Leadership

3 Strategies for Fostering Brain Health at Work — It Starts at the Top

By Powell Brown

A recent study shows that mental health (or brain health as we refer to it here at Brown & Brown) is now considered by many Americans to be a greater risk to public health than cancer. It is in the top spot for younger Americans, with 22% of 18- to 29-year-olds identifying it as the greatest threat, above opioids and obesity.

We spend a lot of our lives at work — approximately 25% of our time for people working the typical 40-hour week. That is a substantial investment of time and energy, and at Brown & Brown, prioritizing the health and well-being of our team and supporting brain health is a top priority. It’s also a way to support & prioritize our teammates.

In 2018, we lost three teammates to suicide — any number higher than zero is too high. That experience dramatically impacted my personal journey as a human being, a teammate and a business leader.

Last year, my brothers and I created the Shifting Gears on Brain Health foundation to help raise awareness and funds to support brain health. We committed to taking on the Haute Route Alps, widely considered the highest and toughest amateur cycling race in the world, and through the support of a lot of awesome people and partners, we raised a lot of money to support organizations contributing to brain health research, education, prevention and treatment. But there is a whole lot more work to do.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and while the health and well-being of our teams are an essential priority year-round, it’s a good time for leaders to refocus and recommit to building a culture of empathy, support and understanding.

Here are three strategies to help you prioritize brain health and wellness:

1. Start at the top.

Leadership must be committed to brain health — “buy-in” is not enough. Leaders set the tone for the entire organization. When executives actively talk about and demonstrate their commitment to brain health, it sends a powerful message and becomes a true organizational value.

Start with open dialogue. Leaders should initiate conversations about the importance of brain health, destigmatize discussions around mental illness and encourage employees to prioritize self-care and seek support when needed. When you create a culture of openness and transparency, leaders can help break down barriers to seeking help and promote a supportive environment where everyone feels valued and respected.

2. Make an investment.

Investing resources — money, time, effort — into programs and initiatives to promote well-being helps embed it into the culture.

The concept of holistic well-being is anchored in acknowledging our four pillars of health: physical, spiritual, financial and mental (brain). A lot of companies address physical health through wellness programs and financial health through benefits like tuition reimbursement and stock purchase plans, but only more recently have invested in resources to support brain health.

Resources that build support for brain health include:

  • Teammate Resource Groups (TRG) dedicated to brain health: These teammate-led groups foster support and camaraderie around common characteristics or interests, and this kind of support network can be especially valuable for people struggling to feel included or valued. At Brown & Brown, we established a Mental Health TRG with a mission to promote teammate well-being and create a safe community where teammates can come together to learn how we can all take better care of our mental and emotional health.
  • Education: Education helps raise awareness and reduce the stigma around mental health. For example, we host interactive webinars that our on-staff board-certified psychiatrist leads to discuss mental and physical well-being topics. When people have a better understanding of mental health, they are more likely to recognize signs and symptoms, seek help when needed and offer support to others.
  • Trained support teams: Mental health allies offer peer support to those experiencing challenges. They can lend a compassionate ear, provide practical advice and connect individuals with the right resources. Brown & Brown has Mental Health Allies who are Mental Health First Aid trained by the National Council for Behavioral Health and available to support teammates while raising awareness of brain health and wellness.
  • Wellness challenges: Brain health is intricately linked to physical health. Regular movement fuels brain cells and regulates neurotransmitter levels in the brain—important to mood regulation, stress management and cognitive function. Wellness challenges can promote individual health and cultivate a supportive community. We’ve established the Charity Miles Wellness Challenge, which encourages our teammates to be active and focus on physical health by tracking steps or bicycle miles.

3. Live by it.

Living a commitment to brain health means making it a core piece of your organizational culture. It has to go beyond just having programs and initiatives in place; it’s about actively promoting and participating in them all year round.

Leaders have to lead by example. Period. Actively participating in brain health initiatives, openly discussing their own experiences and challenges and building a culture of permission by taking breaks are all ways to “walk the walk.”

As a leader, it’s not only OK to step away, but when you do, it also gives your teammates permission to do it. We come back recharged and ready to deliver for our teammates and customers. I tell our team that if you can’t go on vacation without checking in on work, including checking email, you may not have your business or team set up very well. You aren’t allowing yourself or your team the space to recharge and find new creativity.

What does brain health cost?

When your teammates are happy and healthy, they’re engaged at a higher level. The traditional return on investment for these initiatives and efforts might be hard to calculate, but by investing in comprehensive brain health initiatives, organizations are not only doing what’s right for their teams but also setting themselves up for long-term success in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Aside from the main reason we do it at Brown & Brown — we care about each other — there is a real business argument for investing in well-being initiatives. The World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion each year from mostly reduced productivity.

Like any other worthwhile investment, our commitment to brain health and the well-being of our people is not inexpensive. There is a financial cost to every added employee benefit. It also costs time and effort. However, the benefits far outweigh the cost when it comes to brain health.