Mollie Jean de Dieu, the founder of Emotional Inclusion, explains how companies can truly care for their employees’ mental health by engaging a trained therapist.
10 May 2022 / By SGN
While it is worth cheering that mental health is gaining awareness around the world, Mollie points out that many are treating it simply as a trendy cause to get behind.
Likening this effect to greenwashing, she says workplaces that emphasise mental wellness can sometimes tackle the subject superficially without looking hard at the root stressors and difficulties that employees face. A company that appears to be an advocate for mental health could in reality have employees that are overworked or struggling emotionally.
“People are treating ‘mental health’ as a buzzword,” she observes. “Organisations need to go beyond yoga, mindfulness and meditation sessions. These activities may provide temporary relief, but they don’t leave a deep or lasting effect.”
Getting it right starts with a proper understanding of what the term really means. Contrary to popular perception, mental health doesn’t just concern serious disorders, Mollie explains. Rather, it relates to overcoming any sense of emotional disconnection or void stemming from personal or work issues.
“Whatever imbalance that starts to get in the way of your normal capacities to perform at work needs to be addressed – not only for your own wellbeing, but also for the wellbeing of the company.”
Leaving our emotions at the door
Mollie’s interest in mental wellbeing has been the result of her encounters and experiences as a global citizen. She describes herself as an American who is “French at heart”, having grown up in Paris and later marrying a Frenchman. After starting her career in the US, she moved to Hong Kong to become Longchamp’s APAC head of wholesale business.
Nine years later, in 2015, she jumped at the opportunity to relocate to Singapore to establish Longchamp’s affiliates in Singapore and Malaysia. Settling into her new “home away from home” meant being able to cut back on travel while raising her two children – Mia is nine and Louis is seven – in a safe and enriching environment.
Through her decades of corporate experience as well as conversations with friends and colleagues, she came to realise how outmoded workplaces today are.
“Here we are living in the 21st century and being unable to bring our full selves to work, because showing emotion is equated with weakness or unprofessionalism,” she says. “I hear stories of people going through divorce, depression, serious illness, loss of loved ones – who are expected to show up at work, leave their emotions and personal life at the door, and perform and deliver their KPIs.”
In her view, companies need to realise that, without a psychology degree or medical expertise, they are ill-equipped to handle the emotional wellbeing of their employees. This disconnect surfaced in a survey where 78% of employers believed their staff are comfortable with mental health discussions, whereas less than 10% of employees felt the same way.
As COVID-19 exacerbates mental struggles and drives many to burnout, Mollie believes the time is now for every company to take mental health seriously and start looking at it properly, through a medical lens.
What is emotional inclusion?
Armed with this mission, Mollie founded the nonprofit Emotional Inclusion to advocate a shift in corporate mindsets and practices regarding mental health. She coined the term to describe an environment that is inclusive of employees’ emotional needs – one that doesn’t consider them shameful or inconvenient.
According to one report, 68% of millennials and 81% of Gen Zers left their jobs for mental health reasons in 2021. Mollie says that psychological safety is paramount – employees need to feel that they are being cared for, and that support is available when they need it. In the same way that we go to the doctor to resolve physical ailments, someone suffering mental distress deserves to seek help from a psychologist.
At Emotional Inclusion, Mollie has developed a 12-month programme where each company is matched with a trained therapist providing confidential one-on-one sessions with employees. Subsequently, the therapist identifies predominant emotional triggers and conducts company-wide workshops that are aligned with organisational values and benefit even staff who aren’t ready to step forward and speak up.
To measure the progress made, quarterly reports track metrics such as absenteeism, turnover and overall happiness. The goal is to create sustainable change and make mental health a pillar of the company’s success. After all, studies show that happy employees work harder, and the World Health Organization has found that every dollar put into scaling up mental health treatments produces a return of four dollars in improved health and productivity.
Although it’s early days yet for the programme, the response so far has been very positive. Companies Mollie has worked with have experienced greater engagement, a renewed sense of optimism, and a stronger sense of belonging.
Despite mental health being a taboo topic in much of Asia, Mollie finds Singapore to be a favourable location to launch Emotional Inclusion in. “The sincerity and authenticity of the people in Singapore makes it easy to have genuine discussions,” she says, “and the market is mature and globally minded enough to be receptive to these new ideas.”
Driving conversations in mental health
Emotional Inclusion is a passion project that Mollie pursues while juggling her fulltime role at Longchamp and caring for her family.
She carves out precious hours – early mornings before the kids are up, weekend slots while they are at dance classes or birthday parties – to liaise with companies and draft questions for her next podcast guest. But she also makes time for self-care, unwinding through soothing walks at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and relaxing boat trips out to sea every other month.
To educate herself in the field of mental health, Mollie listens to audiobooks and reads up on the latest studies and statistics. Furthermore, she taps her professional network to understand differing perceptions of mental wellness in various sectors and regions, and her Emotional Inclusion podcast elicits insights from global leaders on their approaches to emotional wellbeing in the workplace.
Venturing further into uncharted territory, Mollie is excited about her recent contract with Penguin Random House to write a book that is set to be published in March 2023.
“This book will be a place for me to share what I’ve learnt about emotional inclusion,” she says, “and how we can together make our work environments more inclusive and compassionate.”
Mollie is the general manager of Longchamp in Singapore and Malaysia and the founder of Emotional Inclusion, a nonprofit that advocates addressing employees’ mental health through a trained therapist. She lives in Singapore with her husband and two children.
Connect with her here.