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Inside Turnitin: Supporting Mental Health Awareness Month

Insights from Turnitin's Chief People Officer on nurturing well-being in the workplace while aiming for high performance.

Insights from Turnitin's Chief People Officer on nurturing well-being in the workplace while aiming for high performance.

Marissa Farrar
Marissa Farrar
Chief People Officer

As we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, I'm reminded of the delicate ‘balance’ between striving for high performance and nurturing our well-being. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "globally, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety at a cost of US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity." This staggering statistic underscores the urgent need for leaders to become more knowledgeable about mental health impacts in the workplace.

At Turnitin, we understand that a healthy mind is just as crucial as a healthy body, and that's why we're proud to recognize Mental Health Awareness Month this May. We believe that creating a supportive environment for mental health not only benefits individuals but also enhances team dynamics and overall productivity.

In this post, I want to share Turnitin’s commitment to prioritizing mental health in the workplace and offer insights into how we achieve this. From personal accountability to supporting our teammates, I’ll explore practical tips and initiatives that anyone can implement to promote well-being in their own lives and workplaces. So, let's dive in and discover how we're making mental health a priority at Turnitin.

What is the purpose of Mental Health Awareness Month?

Mental Health Awareness Month serves several important purposes. It aims to highlight the importance of mental health issues, including symptoms, the treatment options available, as well as preventative resources. By shining a spotlight on these topics, the month encourages open conversations and reduces stigma surrounding mental illness.

Mental Health Awareness Month promotes advocacy and support for individuals living with mental health conditions, and empowers people to speak out about their experiences and seek help without fear of judgment or discrimination. This month, we’re reminded to prioritize mental well-being in our personal lives and workplaces, and as individuals and organizations, we are encouraged to take proactive steps to support mental health.

Ultimately, Mental Health Awareness Month aims to foster a culture of understanding, compassion, and support for mental health issues, leading to improved overall well-being for individuals and communities alike.

How can workplace leaders shape environments that support health and well-being?

It is crucial to get comfortable with navigating and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. The more leaders share their stories, the more we can destigmatize mental health in the workplace. So, here goes one of mine…

This ‘balance’ between striving for high performance and nurturing our well-being is an ongoing aspiration of mine—part of my leadership journey, shaped by my upbringing, experiences, and a pivotal moment in my career.

My parents, who were educators, entrepreneurs, and trailblazers in their own right, instilled in me the importance of academic excellence and achievement. As the first in their families to attend college as Black Americans, they paved the way for me and my siblings to aim higher and do more than the generations before us. While this drive has fueled my growth, it has also led to moments where it overshadowed my health and well-being.

One such moment occurred in a previous role when I realized an error in my data just before presenting it to senior leadership. Despite apologizing and resolving the issue quickly, I became mentally stuck and overwhelmed by negative self-talk. I went into a downward spiral that affected my health. Having noticed a dip in my behaviors and level of engagement, my leaders emphasized the importance of accountability, performance and respite. I can still hear one of them saying, “Marissa, you’ve gotta know when to take yourself out of the game… call a timeout and then jump back in”. This experience taught me the importance of owning mistakes, taking corrective actions, and prioritizing self-care and self-compassion in leadership and life.

Since then, I've shared these lessons with members of my People team and my children, emphasizing the value of recognizing when to step back, whether planning time off or moving forward without dwelling on mistakes. Encouraging employees to embrace failure as a learning opportunity is such an important aspect of mental well-being. Failure is a natural part of growth, and instead of viewing it as a setback, it should be seen as an opportunity to learn and improve.

That said, practicing gratitude is also beneficial, as taking time to appreciate accomplishments and the things we have can shift focus from what's lacking to what's been achieved.

How can organizations help employees take personal accountability for their mental health?

Employers can play a crucial role in helping team members take personal accountability for their mental health by implementing several key strategies. Firstly, setting realistic goals is essential. While aiming for high performance is important, it's equally vital to set achievable goals to prevent feelings of being overwhelmed and reduce stress.

Mental health is as vital as physical health, thus making self-care a priority is paramount. Activities like taking walks during lunch breaks, pursuing hobbies, getting enough sleep, and maintaining a balanced diet are essential for mental well-being. Practicing self-compassion and extending understanding to oneself and others is also crucial. Life can be challenging, and it's okay to seek help when needed.

Additional strategies were shared by our CEO, Chris Caren, in a Thirty Minute Mentor blog, including the importance of strategic planning to maintain energy levels and avoid burnout.

At Turnitin, we've successfully integrated these practices into our culture which has strengthened our identity as 'One Team'. This unity and sense of accomplishment contribute to a supportive environment where mental health is prioritized.

How can organizations offer a positive work-life balance?

While we're dedicated to our work and mission, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial. Disconnecting after hours, using vacation days, and setting boundaries allow us to return to work refreshed and ready to contribute our best selves.

‘Self-care’ is a priority and constant topic of discussion among the Turnitin leadership team. Taking time out for personal well-being, stress relief and rejuvenation is reported to positively impact both physical and mental wellness. With this in mind, incorporating scheduled "self-care days" helps to prioritize personal time and recharge whilst doing something that you love.

It’s also key to adopt the mantra of “weekends are for wellness”, whereby—unless pre-agreed or required for time-sensitive projects—employees should not be regularly engaging with work over the weekend. Our workdays look different depending upon our role and where we sit within the Turnitin organization, but all of our weekends should be the same. That is, we all are encouraged to turn work off, completely, and experience life in the present during our weekends. When we take the time to fully unwind on the weekends, studies have indicated that we reduce stress levels, and we can return to work refreshed and more productive.

One simple thing we can all do is respect the working times of our global colleagues, and set scheduled sends on communications such as emails and instant messages, so that they are delivered within your colleagues’ working hours.

What is the importance of employee feedback and check-ins for mental health awareness?

Employee feedback and regular check-ins play a crucial role in fostering a supportive work environment. By actively seeking feedback from employees, organizations demonstrate that they value their opinions, experiences, and well-being. These check-ins provide opportunities for employees to voice concerns, share ideas, and provide input on their work environment, workload, and overall satisfaction.

Creating a supportive culture where colleagues are mindful of each other's workload and well-being is essential. Offering a helping hand, being open to conversations, and encouraging breaks and time off when needed can make a significant difference in employee morale and productivity. Sometimes, simply connecting on a personal level, such as through an "anything but work" catch-up, can strengthen relationships and create a sense of camaraderie among team members.

Additionally, many organizations now utilize employee experience platforms to facilitate open communication and feedback. These platforms provide a forum for employees to acknowledge and appreciate each other's contributions, whilst allowing managers to assist with performance and development—all to promote a positive and collaborative work environment.

By recognizing and celebrating achievements, employees feel valued and motivated, which ultimately contributes to a supportive team culture where colleagues are more likely to reach out for support when needed.

How can organizations make mental health awareness an ongoing commitment?

As a company, we're committed to fostering a supportive work environment for mental health. We strive for high performance, powered by purpose, in a supportive work environment. It's crucial to prioritize self-care for mental health.

Provide a forum for open communication

At Turnitin, we prioritize open communication by encouraging honest discussions about workload, stress levels, and personal needs. We ensure that managers and team members have regular check-ins to discuss workload distribution and address any challenges that may arise. These check-ins provide an opportunity for employees to share their experiences and concerns openly. We have also implemented anonymous feedback mechanisms and created opportunities for group discussions or team meetings where employees can express their thoughts productively without fear of judgment.

We are cultivating a culture of transparency and trust where employees feel comfortable sharing their mental health needs. By providing a forum for open communication, we can address issues proactively and support our employees in maintaining their mental well-being, while aiming for high performance.

Help employees lean into flexibility

We support a global mindset here at Turnitin, where we are adaptable, culturally sensitive, and able to collaborate effectively across time zones to achieve shared goals. We want to share the steps we take. How can other organizations do the same?

  • Offer market-competitive time-off benefits and encourage employees to take advantage of them to prioritize their mental well-being and personal responsibilities.
  • Embrace flexible work arrangements to accommodate employees' diverse needs, whether it's remote work options, flexible hours, or compressed workweeks.
  • Encourage movement throughout the workday, such as walking during calls or incorporating stretch routines, to promote physical activity and reduce sedentary behavior. Making movement a part of the daily workflow can boost productivity and contribute to overall well-being. In the UK, Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 takes place 13 to 19 May and is focused on the all-important theme of “Movement: Moving more for our mental health”.

Create an inclusive environment with employee resource groups

Our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are grassroots, employee-led organizations which are centered around a shared interest and/or underrepresented group. They create spaces for community and networking, educate the employee population on matters relating to the group, and advise on business decisions and policies to ensure a fair and equitable experience for their members.

Throughout May our Integrity without Stigma (IwS) ERG will be sharing and hosting events focused on mental health awareness, in addition to the incredible work they do all year round. IwS provides a space for Turnitin employees to connect with others who share similar experiences, offering peer support, understanding, and solidarity.

By raising awareness about mental health issues, IwS helps break down stigma and provides access to resources and tools for managing mental well-being in the workplace. They advocate for policies and initiatives that promote mental health, driving organizational change and improving employee engagement and retention.

Engage in employee wellness initiatives

For organizations looking to support their employees' mental well-being, implementing employee wellness programs is crucial. Consider offering fitness and well-being reimbursements to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Organize charity walks or activities to promote community engagement and physical activity.

Additionally, provide comprehensive support through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), offering confidential counseling and personalized wellness programs. Normalizing help-seeking behavior for mental health is essential, and having an EAP ensures employees have discreet and respectful support available when needed.

A commitment to year-round mental health awareness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, but it's crucial to recognize the importance of prioritizing our well-being, especially in the workplace, all year round.

We will maintain momentum on well-being initiatives throughout the year, continually offering resources, programs, and activities to support your mental and physical health. Because prioritizing your well-being isn't selfish—it's essential for a productive and supportive work environment where individuals and teams are resilient.

Our goal is to evolve Turnitin from a workplace into a vibrant and inclusive community—a community where mental health is prioritized and celebrated, high-performing teams thrive, and individuals feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie. These are our shared goals.

Here's to a healthy and fulfilling May for all of us.