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A group of employees at a long table

By Jessica Kennedy, Chief of Staff and Vice President of Finance, Mental Health America

I recently started conducting stay interviews with our team here at Mental Health America.

“Do you know what a stay interview is?” I asked an employee.

“I can guess,” they responded. “Why? Are you afraid I’m going to leave?”

“No,” I reassured them before giving an explanation.

A stay interview is the supportive friend to an exit interview. In an exit interview, companies meet with employees who are already out the door to ask questions about company culture or employee satisfaction, among other topics. They can be useful, but they can also be too late to do any good. Conducting an exit interview with a star employee who has already resigned can change the future but not the present.

A stay interview occurs when an employee is still at the organization. In our stay interviews, we explore what makes that employee happy, what they like about their job, and what would keep them here at MHA.

“You know it’s funny,” an employee remarked at the end of their stay interview, “I feel like the companies that need to do this the most probably don’t, and it’s great that MHA is doing something like this.”

You think?

First, I want to brag a little because the stay interviews at Mental Health America have been glowing. Every employee praised our company culture, and many described this as the best place they have ever worked. (And that wasn’t just coming from the millennials who have only worked, well, here. Our longer-tenured employees said nice things, too).

It felt good to hear that because that’s a culture we intentionally built.

When Paul Gionfriddo came on as CEO in 2014, he met with his leadership team and made it clear that he wanted Mental Health America to be a place where people wanted to come to work. We were all very supportive of that goal. We wanted the organization to be somewhere where employees thrived. We knew that mental health conditions were the leading costs of disability in the workplace and that workplaces were generally unfriendly toward mental health and substance use problems. We knew that was wrong. We wanted to change it.

So we did.

We eliminated sick note requirements for sick leave so people wouldn’t feel pressured to disclose therapy or doctor’s appointments. We employ adults; we trust them to manage their health.

We dropped what family members were “approved” for bereavement leave (which is up to three days outside of PTO) or family sick leave, because our employees know who and what matters to them. It’s our job to support them during difficult times, not add administrative burden.

We fully stocked a brand-new kitchen with snacks and drinks, some of which are even healthy. (Not all of the snacks, though—we’re not monsters).

We improved our existing wellness room by adding a weighted blanket.

Pictured: An actual MHA employee

And those are just some of the smaller changes.

We flattened our organizational structure to help people feel more empowered and engaged.

We added a professional development policy that gave every employee, even the most junior, choices in what conferences or extended learning to pursue.

We got rid of our traditional performance management system and implemented a support-centric covenant, an idea imagined by our friend Andy Faas at Faas Foundation and Accordant Advisors. In this model, supervisors are tasked with supporting their employees and need to document the support they have given for an employee to achieve their job duties (not the other way around).

We built my position, Chief of Staff, solely to support the other members of the team.

And we conduct things like stay interviews.

The employees at MHA are engaged, productive, and happy. We worked hard to make a culture where this was possible.

That’s part of the reason we’re so excited that we launched the Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health last week. As a company that made a real investment in building an employee-first, mentally healthy culture, we wanted to recognize other companies doing similar work.

The Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health recognizes employers who achieve mental wellness and employee engagement in the workplace across five domains:

  • Workplace Culture
  • Health Insurance & Benefits
  • Employee Perks & Programs
  • Legal & Ethical Compliance
  • Leadership & Community Engagement

Companies who apply can receive Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum certification. Each company also receives customized feedback and recommendations to advance their score.

I’m proud to work at a place that creates such incredible programming. I’m proud to work at a place that cares so much about its employees. I can’t wait to see what our Bell Seal recipients—from Bronze to Platinum—are doing in their workplaces. Maybe it’s a stay interview, or maybe it’s something else.

I’m staying to find out.

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