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Attention Leaders - Your Role In Mental Health is Crucial.

Mental health is definitely the buzzword of 2021. There is no doubt that leaders, now more than ever, have a responsibility for the mental health and well-being of their people. In a pre-working from homework environment, leaders may have been able to closely monitor their employee's health and well-being, however in our current state of working from home and remote teams it may be more difficult to recognize.

The World Health Organization defines mental health as 'a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.’ According to the book “Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace” by Gill Hasson and Donna Butler, the first step to mental well-being is knowing what it looks like. “Good mental health means feeling fairly confident and having decent self-esteem. It means being comfortable with experiencing a full range of emotions, from joy to anger to sadness, and everything in-between. It also means being comfortable with expressing these emotions.

More broadly, good mental health means that you’re able to reach your full potential, without being held back by your own thoughts, feelings, or behaviours.”

A couple of months ago we spoke about how better relationships increase employee wellbeing. Whilst this is an effective activity, there are several other ways in which leaders can support their team members’ health and wellbeing Hasson and Butler continue to explain that mental well-being at work depends on several key areas:

  1. You feel good when you are able to cope with the demands of your role - it is no surprise that when team members feel supported and are able to manage their workload, they feel happier and are more productive.

  2. You have a certain amount of autonomy over how you carry out your tasks and activities - this is absolutely critical, especially when we are all trying to balance so many other aspects of our daily lives during our time at work - such as home management or supervising kids who are learning at home.

  3. You have positive relationships with your coworkers - this again reiterates the importance of relationships at work and how this leads to the overall better wellbeing of individuals.

  4. You are aware of what is expected of you - there are no hidden demands or expectations. Knowing what needs to be done can feel less overwhelming and more manageable.

  5. You feel that you are being kept informed of changes and leaders are willing to engage with you to discuss them - during times of uncertainty, the unknown can create anxiety. By keeping team members in the loop, it creates a sense of trust and comfort amongst the team.

In an article published by the Harvard Business Review titled; “8 Ways Managers Can Support Employees’ Mental Health” by Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol, it was noted what leaders can do to support the health and wellbeing of their team members. The article suggested that it is important for leaders to:

  1. Be vulnerable - Being honest about your mental health struggles as a leader opens the door for employees to feel comfortable talking with you about mental health challenges of their own. Research has shown that authentic leadership can cultivate trust and improve employee engagement and performance.

  2. Model healthy behaviours - Don’t just say you support mental health. Model it so that your team members feel they can prioritize self-care and set boundaries. More often than not, managers are so focused on their team’s well-being and on getting the work done that they forget to take care of themselves. Share that you’re taking a walk in the middle of the day, having a therapy appointment, or prioritizing a staycation (and actually turning off email) so that you don’t burn out.

  3. Build a culture of connection through check-ins - Go beyond a simple “How are you?” and ask specific questions about what support would be helpful. Wait for the full answer. Really listen, and encourage questions and concerns.

  4. Offer flexibility and be inclusive - Don’t make assumptions about what your direct reports need; they will most likely need different things at different times. Take a customized approach to address stressors, such as challenges with childcare or feeling the need to work all the time. Proactively offer flexibility.

  5. Communicate more than you think you need to - Make sure you keep your team informed about any organizational changes or updates. Remove stress where possible by setting expectations about workloads, prioritizing what must get done, and acknowledging what can slide if necessary.

Other suggestions included investing in training, modifying policies and practices, and measuring staff engagement through people and culture surveys. At Human Interactions we’re passionate about people maximising their potential. We partner with business leaders helping them to improve individual and team performance, wellbeing, engagement, and capability.

We believe there are 9 key components to a thriving business

Mental health and employee wellbeing is an essential component to an effective, productive and cohesive team.

Despite the fact that we may still be in lockdown or working from remote locations, leaders can not afford to wait to return to an office environment before they start focusing on their people again. Take action now and support your team’s wellbeing.

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