Leading with Compassion: A Clinical Psychologist’s Guide to Cultivating a Healthy Workplace

Leading with compassion: A guide to cultivating a healthy workplace

In today’s fast-paced and quickly-evolving business landscape, the importance of prioritizing employee mental health has never been more critical. As businesses navigate challenges and uncertainties, fostering a supportive environment for their team members’ well-being is a necessity.

In this interview, Dr. Monica Vermani shares the reasons behind the need for effective mental health support, as well as practical advice for employers and managers.

👇 Key Takeaways

  • Organizations looking to attract, retain, and engage top talent must support their employees’ personal and professional well-being
  • The first step to treatment is awareness
  • Managers and team leaders need to lead with compassion
  • Employees feel seen, understood, and supported when their supervisors lead with compassion


Business Name: Dr. Vermani Balanced Wellbeing Inc., Start Living Corporate Wellness Inc.
Website URL: https://www.drmonicavermani.com/
Founder: Dr. Monica Vermani
Business Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Year Started: 2007

Tell us about yourself and your business.

I’ll start with a little background about myself and my early life. I was the first-born child of immigrant parents who came to Canada as newlyweds. Though my parents were active in their community and made many friends, in terms of extended family, we were alone in their new country without the benefit and the support of an extended family that most people enjoy. This came into sharp focus when I was quite young, and my father suffered a serious, life-altering workplace injury along with PTSD.

Of course, this event changed and impacted our small family unit profoundly, and I believe it also informed me as a very young child. As a result of his injury, I became a caregiver to my father and helped my mother manage the tasks of running a household. While my father recovered, I, as a young child, had to grow up a bit faster and help with managing household chores and responsibilities.

I was a very young caregiver, and because of this, I developed an affinity, capacity, and ease in helping others. I came to enjoy working in environments where I was helping people in need. By the time I was a teenager, I was doing a lot of volunteering. 

After high school, I attended the University of Toronto. I studied psychology, sociology, criminology, and women’s studies. My goal was to be able to get a job and support myself. After I graduated from University, I enrolled in a diploma program to become a psychometrist. This phase of my education included internships and job placements. In one of these workplace settings, a prominent psychologist and psychiatrist saw potential in me and encouraged me to continue my studies in the field of mental health and fostered in me a drive to complete my master’s and doctorate and become a clinical psychologist. 

My doctoral work culminated in the publication of The PCMAD (Primary Care Mood and Anxiety Diagnoser): The Development of a Diagnostic Tool to Detect Social Anxiety Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Depression. 

In 25 years of private practice, I have treated thousands of patients with Supportive Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), Breath-Body-Mind (BBM) practices, and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)/Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR). 

I founded Start Living Corporate Wellness in 2017 to offer organizations impactful, game-changing corporate wellness initiatives that address the underlying mental health issues that impact individuals and groups. My vision was to offer organizations a dynamic suite of customizable training and support options they could use to address the challenges they were facing. As a clinical psychologist, I designed every element to help organizations support their employees and keep them engaged, productive, happy, and whole. 

As a clinical psychologist, I spend most of my time working with patients one-on-one. But as my practice grew, so did my appreciation for the reality that a great many people experience barriers to the tools and psychoeducation that therapy provides. I wanted to do something for these people … and this desire planted the seed for a book that would provide a great many of the same tools and strategies that so many patients of mine have used to change their lives for the better. The resulting book is called A Deeper Wellness, Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Traumas, and from this book, I developed a companion A Deeper Wellness Life Lessons, an online mental health self-help program that provides the tools to create a deep, authentic sense of wellness and well-being. These tools take readers through the same tried and true multi-disciplinary approach to treatment that has been successful in creating incremental, meaningful changes for hundreds of patients and groups. 

A Deeper Wellness by Dr. Monica Vermani

To promote my book, I started engaging with media outlets and providing mental health expert commentary. I was invited to become a contributor to Psychology Today, and I have worked with a great list of media outlets, including Forbes, Business Insider, Oprah Daily, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Martha Stewart, Men’s Health, The List, Yahoo! Life, Daily OM, Parade Magazine, POPSUGAR, Parade, Vitamin Shoppe, CNN, NBC, CTV, CITY TV, Global TV, HIVE, Hamilton Today With Scott Thompson, Radio-Canada, The Globe and Mail, Shondaland, HuffPost, Well and Good, and Fast Company. 

I was also invited to speak at a TEDX event, and shortly following the release of my talk about understanding and conquering negative thinking and self-limiting narratives and beliefs, it became one of the top 10 TEDX talks worldwide. 

Since then, I have delivered a number of keynote addresses, and I look forward to continue raising awareness about mental health to as many people as possible!

What was your inspiration for starting the business?

For me, there have been many starts, and each start has been inspired by people I have met along with way.

I’ve already mentioned my first mentor, who explained to me that if I wanted to help people to the best of my ability I should continue my education, and become a clinical psychologist. I didn’t have the confidence before meeting this person, but once I realized that someone who was in a position to do so saw potential in me, I was inspired. From there, one inspiration led to another and another. I soon met other people who helped me along my way. All my supervisors and mentors have reinforced my path of helping people to the best of my ability as a psychologist today.

I worked extremely hard to pay for school and educate myself. I completed my Doctorate studies and became registered by the College of Psychologists of Ontario … the last step on my journey to becoming a registered Clinical Psychologist. I worked in various hospitals, correctional facilities, and rehabilitation centers to learn various modalities of treatments and create my multidimensional treatment approach to work with clients/patients.

From there, I embarked on a career in private practice. There, I was further inspired, to establish a Corporate Wellness business, and to write my book, A Deeper Wellness. This book inspired me to engage with media, and this engagement inspired me to participate in a TEDX event, and pursue opportunities to speak with — and reach — more people.

Every new start was inspired by hard work and dedication to helping people. 

Dr. Monica Vermani
Photo courtesy of Dr. Monica Vermani

In addition to traditional benefits like health insurance, what other types of support or resources can businesses offer to support the mental health of their employees?

Today, insurance benefits are often just a small part of the support a company provides. In today’s post-pandemic workplace, employees need more support. Furthermore, organizations looking to attract, retain, and engage top talent need to authentically and demonstrably support their employees’ personal and professional well-being. They need to do the real work and be truly committed to making their workplace healthy. Increasingly, toxic work environments are becoming unacceptable, and organizations that fail to change struggle to attract and retain top talent. 

Corporate wellness initiatives—wellness talks, seminars, and other support—are no longer add-ons! They are critical to an organization’s workplace culture and play a significant role in supporting employees.

I’m particularly inspired by the latest addition to my corporate wellness service offerings:  a feature we call ‘Office Hours.’  This service allows organizations to offer employees individual consultations with a mental health professional (a clinical psychologist) to help people understand how to use their benefits and seek the assistance they need to better their quality of life. The organizations I work with are astounded by the demand for this offering. 

The takeaway from all of this is that people are struggling and need support! As for other initiatives that organizations need to be open to offering include flex hours, flexible remote work arrangements, enhanced benefits, and staying plugged into what their employees need. Organizations need to work hard to make sure that employees feel supported through their work- and life-cycle. 

What role can employee training and education play in promoting mental health awareness in the workplace?

The first step to treatment is awareness. Psychoeducation provides awareness for people to know how to better themselves.

Managers and team leaders need training, and psycho-education to be able to respond compassionately to the people they directly supervise. They need to be able to understand and recognize the signs when people are struggling with mental health issues.

For example, in today’s workplaces, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety are at record levels… and these two disorders have serious symptoms that negatively impact everything from productivity, and team cohesion, to self-confidence and both absenteeism and presenteeism. 

Social Anxiety shows up in the workplace in many ways. People suffering from Social Anxiety avoid social situations and interactions, and, in some cases, even avoid making eye contact. Though present in meetings and group situations, they avoid actively participating — especially speaking up, or voicing conflicting opinions. They lack confidence in their work and fear making mistakes. They often double or triple-check their work, adding significant stress and time to completing tasks. They harbor elevated fears of falling short and failing at tasks they may have accomplished many times over. 

Employees struggling with Generalized Anxiety Disorder suffer from many physical issues, like headaches, fatigue, body aches due to muscle tension, and digestive issues. These physical symptoms trigger an increase in sick days and doctor’s visits. People suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder doubt their abilities and expertise in the workplace. They can become paralyzed by anxieties and worries. They struggle to stay focused on what they’re doing and take longer than usual to complete tasks. With their excessive worrying and feeling out of control, they may question or ruminate over and over and raise the same concerns time after time, which can lead to conflict or frustration with their coworkers and managers. These behaviors can result in missed deadlines and a dramatic decline in productivity and team morale. 

Managers and team leaders who are equipped with the skills and knowledge of what to look for and how to recognize when employees are struggling can respond rather than react and offer support and solutions for employees who are struggling. 

What are some practical strategies businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, can implement to support their employees’ mental health?

First rule: do something rather than nothing! Commit to bringing in mental health awareness supports. Consult with mental health professionals, and understand that their opinions come with years of experience working with people in the field of wellness.

Realize that today’s workplaces need to do more to demonstrate a commitment to the well-being of their employees. They need to offer more than a good benefits package. Understand that starting small and building on employee feedback and engagement is a great way to go. Remember … every journey begins with one step. Do something!

How can business owners create a culture of openness and destigmatize discussions around mental health in the workplace?

Again … do something! Start the conversation! Offer mental health talks … lunch and learns online support options! I have seen first-hand the need for support through my Office Hours program. Bring in a therapist and offer support and guidance. Allow time off for employees to attend therapy sessions online or in person.

Support managers and team leaders with psychoeducation, and take a good look at your benefits package. Make sure it includes a meaningful level of mental health support. 

Dr. Monica Vermani
Photo courtesy of Dr. Monica Vermani

How can businesses address the challenges of managing mental health concerns in remote team members without the benefit of in-person observation?

The same strategies apply to on-site and remote workers. Offer meaningful supports. Educate and train team leaders and managers to recognize when people are struggling. These days there are so many ways for managers and co-workers to stay connected with remote employees and team members. 

Empower leaders to lead with compassion. These strategies are all grounded in a commitment to creating a kinder, more inclusive, and more compassionate workplace culture. Corporate wellness initiatives are essential tools in creating a compassionate workplace culture.

What are some effective ways for remote team members to build social connections and combat feelings of isolation or loneliness?

People feel isolated, unappreciated, and alone when they are unseen, unheard, and undervalued. Workplaces need to realize we spend one-third of our lives at work… whether we are working on-site or remotely. 

It is important for managers and team leaders to stay connected and engaged with all of their team members, and to respond compassionately when people are struggling. 

Team leaders can schedule regular team Zoom meetings that promote team cohesion and help keep all team members connected. They can also promote regular communication and interaction between team members, and create non-work-related opportunities for employees to get to know one another in person. Organizations need to provide the skills and tools that managers and team leaders need to keep remote workers engaged and feeling valued and essential to the organization.

What role do managers and team leaders play in promoting positive mental health among their team members?

Managers and team leaders need to model — that is to say, lead — with compassion. We all need role models. At home, we have blueprints, and at work, we have our colleagues and higher authority in the hierarchy. When team leaders demonstrate compassion … when they are equipped to respond rather than react … when they have the skill sets to recognize when someone on their team is struggling, and when mental health concerns are negatively impacting team cohesion, they can respond compassionately and offer meaningful support.

Leading with compassion creates a positive ripple effect. Employees feel seen, understood, and supported when their supervisors lead with compassion.

How can businesses promote work-life balance and prevent burnout among their employees?

Model it, teach it, promote it. Create realistic timelines and deadlines that do not rely on overwork. When difficult deadlines are met, recognize the hard work and dedication of employees. 

Corporate wellness initiatives are a great way to teach and promote valuable life skills like meaningful self-care, conflict-resolution skills, strategies to combat stress and burnout, and how to recognize and address physical and mental health symptoms. 

Model compassion for employees who are struggling. For example, if an employee is struggling with grief after the death of a family member, offer meaningful support and time off when needed. There’s no substitute for walking the talk! 

How can businesses measure the effectiveness of their mental health initiatives and make adjustments as needed?

As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done. I express this concept to my corporate clients a little differently. I say: What mental health initiatives provide can be measured, and that Organizational Psychology measures help explore pre- and post-states.

Measuring how people are feeling before and after providing and implementing corporate wellness and mental health initiatives provides a clear picture of the impacts and efficacy of mental health initiatives.

Furthermore, pay attention to the enthusiasm and popularity of mental health and wellness initiatives. Start Living’s Office Hours is a great example of this! This initiative has allowed my corporate clients to see the high demand for mental health supports in their employees!

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