Workplace Mental Health: Vulnerability And Compassion Are The New Black

Over the course of the pandemic, several orchestras have been developing programs that focus on mental health of patrons. That’s a very good thing but it never hurts to remember that we need to keep an eye on one another behind the scenes.

All stakeholders are feeling an enormous amount of pressure which manifests in as many ways as there are individuals. An article by Kelly Greenwood and Julia Anas that caught my attention back in October 2021 at the Harvard Business Review examines the topic of mental health in the workplace. Nutshell: things need to improve (emphasis added).

Although employers have responded with initiatives like mental health days or weeksfour-day workweeks, and enhanced counseling benefits or apps, they’re not enough. Employees need and expect sustainable and mentally healthy workplaces, which requires taking on the real work of culture change. It’s not enough to simply offer the latest apps or employ euphemisms like “well-being” or “mental fitness.” Employers must connect what they say to what they actually do.

When viewed from the lens of orchestras as a workplace, the article is simultaneously inspiring and disheartening. It’s inspiring to see how much progress has been made and the concrete steps stakeholders can take to improve mental health, productivity, and job satisfaction. At the same time, it can feel discouraging to see how far the typical orchestra workplace needs to travel in order to match the progress in other sectors.

If nothing else, I love the upbeat tone the authors use to show where things can go if we take the time to travel:

The future of workplace mental health demands culture change — with more vulnerability, compassion, and sustainable ways of working.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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