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Supporting the leaders

Toms Shoes founder puts spotlight on mental health challenges
mental health
Blake Mycoskie, founder and chief shoe giver at Toms Shoes, speaks at the 2019 SHRM conference in Las Vegas on June 26, 2019. Sarah Dobson

Blake Mycoskie is a highly successful businessperson. His small idea to donate much-needed shoes to children in Argentina by giving them a pair of shoes for every pair sold exploded in the late 2000s with the creation of his company Toms.

Since then, the company has donated more than 10 million pairs of shoes to people in need, with the brand sold globally in more than 1,000 stores.

And it’s not just about footwear anymore. Mycoskie’s business has expanded to include eyeglasses, with people in need receiving medical treatment, prescription glasses or surgery in a similar matching program. And Toms Roasting Co., sells coffee sourced through direct trade efforts and donates one week of water to people in need in supplier countries for every bag of coffee sold.

Speaking as the final keynote at the 2019 SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) conference in Las Vegas in June, Mycoskie outlined his road to success, which includes marriage and a son. His presentation included photos of him smiling as he posed for magazine covers or was involved in charity work.

But eventually all that success caught up with Mycoskie, who realized he was stressed and burnt out, and not spending time with the things that mattered, like family.

“I had spent the last eight years checking all the boxes, the things that my parents and culture and the media said would give me lasting happiness,” he said from the stage to an audience of about 19,000 at SHRM. “I started a company that was meaningful and helped others… I started a family, but in doing so, I realized I had sacrificed my own personal well-being. I was overworked, I was always stressed, I was constantly digitally distracted and rarely present with my wife and family. I was always tending to ‘urgent’ business needs. And for the first time in my life, I was actually diagnosed with mild depression… it was a really hard time… Anyone who’s experiencing that feels alone, and that’s how I felt.”

But Mycoskie was not alone, as he demonstrated with a slide of stats: one out of six Americans takes anti-depressants, 70 million suffer from sleep disorders, 40 million are affected by anxiety, 160 million are overweight, and 44 per cent of employees are burnt out by work.

That’s why it’s important for people to be honest about these issues, said the Toms founder and chief shoe giver, who looked for answers himself by consulting research and talking to experts. All this lead to the development of a new business idea: “Madeof,” which involves monthly packages sent to subscribers with scientific insights and exercises to help them feel better about their lives and themselves.

The initiative is still in the beta testing phase – SHRM members were encouraged to subscribe – but Mycoskie’s story highlights one of the less common areas of focus for mental health – leaders.

Too often, mental health programs and awareness drives in the workplace are all about employees, and leaders being attentive to employees, providing them with support. But what about the leaders themselves?

If someone like Mycoskie, a highly successful entrepreneur, philanthropist and family man, can experience depression, then surely there are many others. When you’re running the show, when so much responsibility and financial success lies on your shoulders, whether as CEO or vice-president or senior manager, where’s your support?

HR leaders definitely go through stressful times in their everyday work, whether because of layoffs, payroll disruption, collective bargaining or acquisitions. These are hugely challenging times and I wonder if enough focus is put on the well-being of these leaders?

Because if they’re not feeling good and they’re feeling isolated like Mycoskie, then they’re not going to be much help to the people around them, let alone themselves.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, HAB Press. All rights reserved.

Sarah Dobson

Sarah Dobson is the editor/supervisor of Canadian HR Reporter. sarah.dobson@habpress.ca
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