If Andi Campbell had her way, every company would have programs in place that enable employees to live lives in better balance. Getting help, whether it’s for a personal mental health challenge, family emergency or issues within the workplace, would be an easy option, one that can be done without fear of reprisal or stigmatization.
Campbell, president of WellSpark Health, which helps companies improve the health of their employees, has always been interested in helping employers see the benefit of improving their employees’ wellbeing. It was one of her missions as the head of human resources at LAZ Parking for nine years.
But her passion for mental and physical health is also informed by her personal experience, a story she shares precisely because she thinks sharing stories is critical to ending stigma and, ultimately, to moving the corporate needle in this critical area.
“I have had my own mental health struggles as an executive,” she says, noting she’s had panic attacks since her early 20s. Sometimes they occurred before large presentations. Other times on planes when “highly anxious thoughts would require me to medicate.” Campbell also has emetophobia, which is an anxiety disorder that manifests in an extreme fear of vomiting. “I wouldn’t eat on business trips because I was afraid I would get sick. I would overclean,” she says, adding she dealt with these issues in her late 20s and 30s all while being a high-functioning executive. (She became a vice president at 32 and is currently 45.)
In 2016 Campbell went to Bali for a yoga retreat. There was no wi-fi; no one from work was calling her. “I had this moment of clarity realizing that I was married to my career in a very unhealthy way. That was my moment of truth and when I came back and decided to help others to find identity outside of career. That relationship between career and self is so unhealthy in this country.”
Sharing these kinds of struggles can be scary, but Campbell believes doing so is important. “I do share because I don’t think we will get better in the U.S. if we don’t acknowledge there is an unhealthy work dynamic. There is this unhealthy view that the harder you work, the faster you get ahead.”
“Ten-to-twenty years from now, I hope we have a healthier respect for balance, for identity of self, outside of work. When you meet someone, inquiring what you do for a living is often among the first questions they ask,” she adds. “How about asking how are you? I would love for us to live in a world where people respect balance and your soul’s work, not your job, where people respect your gifts of love and relationship rather than how you earn a living.”
As a former human resources leader, Campbell says she’s seen stigma from both sides. “I have seen loving support from employers as well as discrimination,” she says. “I believe even for my own mental health struggles there are a number of stigmas. No one talks about emetophobia. I stayed in my home for three days after I heard a neighbor contracted norovirus shortly after she came to my door. Luckily I was able to work from home at the time because, if not, I don’t know what I would’ve done. [Managers] don’t realize others may have similar experiences. We don’t know how to hold space for others’ experiences.”
One way to move the corporate needle toward better understanding is to change how we build skills to support each other, Campbell says. “People don’t know how to hold space for other humans. Teaching people how to practice empathy needs to start when we are much, much younger.”
And managers need more training. “My experience is that the number one way to improve wellbeing for employees is to invest in skill-building for mid-level managers. It’s about ensuring when someone needs support, the right people know how to provide it and hold space for it.”
While Campbell says progress has occurred in the years she’s been doing this work, more needs to be done. “I think employers are recognizing that employees are now expecting them to provide more whole person support,” she says. “I think this recognition is a big step in the right direction, but I would love to see more employers offering life-dimensional support.”