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Why Leaders Should Prioritize Their Team’s Mental Health

Mental health has its long-awaited moment in the workplace. More and more people are recognizing how anxiety, depression, burnout and other mental health issues can have a significant impact on an individual’s well-being.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many of these problems in the foreground, in part because it revealed how fragile our mental health is. While the pandemic hasn’t necessarily caused these issues, it has compounded the issues for some and helped open up dialogue for others.

While more leaders and their employees are now able to talk about mental health without being stigmatized, we still have a long way to go in terms of leaders who properly support their team’s mental health. Mental health has a profound impact on job performance and the employee experience – so it should be a top priority for every leader. If the mass exodus of workers over the past 6 months has taught us anything, it’s that people are much less tolerant compromise what is important to them.

Why your team’s mental health is relevant to you

While you don’t have to be anyone’s therapist, as a leader you need a basic understanding of how mental health works and how a person’s work can affect his well-being.

Example: “Toxic workplaces” – those defined by bullying, rudeness and disrespect – have was directly linked to symptoms of insomnia, which in itself is often associated with clinical depression. With work being such an important part of an employee’s life, being forced to spend countless hours in a toxic environment can be extremely detrimental to their mental and emotional well-being.

Unsurprisingly, such problems can also be extremely detrimental to the company’s bottom line. Studies have consistently shown that happy workers are more productive. Untreated mental health issues can have a direct impact on their job performance – and if an individual’s mental health issues are directly related to their job, they are likely to quit in an effort to improve their well-being.

If your concern is purely utilitarian – and you pretend to worry about making sure performance levels don’t drop, people will see through it. Your respect for your team’s sanity should stem from a genuine concern for them as human beings and the pleasure they feel in contributing to your organization. Treat performance results as the result of this type of leadership. Treating people as merely a means to an end is a surefire way to damage their sanity and your team’s performance.

Recognize the signs of someone in trouble

Like Mike Kogan, Deputy Adviser to Care advice center explained to me, the first responsibility of a leader is to recognize when someone is in trouble. “When mental health issues get worse, you’ll often see behavioral changes in the affected person,” he explains.

“We all have bad days from time to time, but leaders need to be aware of a lasting and seemingly sudden change in an employee’s behavior or temperament. They may become increasingly withdrawn or irritable, or get upset easily. They may display erratic behavior or be less inclined to engage with co-workers. Increased absenteeism is also common as these problems worsen.

By being able to recognize the signs, Kogan says, leaders can open a conversation where they can voice their concern for the employee and see if they need (or are already looking for) help.

You should not feel embarrassed approaching team members when you notice these changes. Remember that your job is not to diagnose or make sense of the changes. Your job is just to let people know you noticed it and care. You can say something like, “I noticed you were quieter than usual. I’m not trying to push, and you don’t have to share anything you don’t want, but I wanted you to know that I noticed this, and I’m concerned. If there’s anything I can do, or if I can be a listening ear, let me know.

Work to create a culture of connection and psychological safety

However, employees may not be willing to discuss their mental health if your office has not actively fostered a culture of connection and psychological safety – where they can feel safe to speak up and discuss the challenges they face. they may face.

“People need to feel like they belong, like they matter and their organization values ​​them,” says Kogan. “Otherwise, work can be an incredibly isolating experience – and that feeling of isolation can make mental health symptoms even worse. Leaders need to consistently show empathy and understanding so employees can feel like they have the ability to raise concerns about workplace stressors.

Even with an open work culture, employees may be apprehensive about discussing their mental health issues with their boss, particularly if part of their challenges stem from the work environment. Providing options such as an anonymous phone line or contact with HR can give employees more ways to deal with workplace stressors that impact their mental health.

And don’t forget that you are one of the biggest stressors your team can face. You may be inadvertently putting undue pressure on them, making unreasonable demands or abruptly changing their priorities. To make sure you’re not the problem, be sure to let people know that you appreciate these comments. Say something like, “I realize we’re under a lot of pressure these days, but the last thing I want is to be another burden on you. If there’s anything about the way I lead the team – how I give direction or feedback, too much or too little, how I support you or not, or how I create space for you to thrive , tell me can get better. Offer them an anonymous way to give you feedback if they feel too risky to tell you directly. (And if that seems too risky, that in itself is feedback).

You don’t have to sacrifice responsibility to be compassionate

Some leaders may rightly be concerned about how to balance compassion for an employee struggling with a mental health issue with responsibility for that individual’s responsibilities. When you know an employee is struggling with their mental health, you don’t have to lower your company’s standards. However, you may need to “renegotiate” to allow your employee to perform their job to the maximum of their abilities. Admittedly, some leaders struggle with this. A client of mine recently told me of a member of her team, “He never claimed to have anxiety issues before, but now suddenly there’s an opportunity to take on a big project. who he asked to be given, and that’s too much to take. Isn’t it normal to be a little nervous about taking on a new challenge? I worked with my client to help her see that people are suddenly able to recognize their mental health needs when for years it seemed impossible. Rather than assuming it was a “yes or no” question, I encouraged her to come back to him and probe deeper to see if there was a way to help her take on the project of a how he felt confident, and it wouldn’t trigger excessive levels of anxiety. That way, he didn’t have to feel like he was choosing between his career and his sanity.

For example, an employee may need to adjust their schedules or spend more time working remotely to better manage their mental health needs. Be clear and direct about expectations and responsibilities, but also empathetic when discussing these and other concerns and how they affect accountability in the workplace.

As long as the work is still up to your standards, you should be prepared to make the necessary adjustments, especially since it has been found that flexible working arrangements beneficial for mental health. Show that you care about them by “checking in” on how they are doing before checking in on their progress.

Balancing mental health needs and workplace demands can be challenging, especially for leaders. But to overcome the stigma around mental health and create a place where every employee can thrive, leaders need to be aware of their role in the mental health needs of their team.

By creating a compassionate, caring, and safe work culture that always prioritizes accountability, you can foster an environment where everyone is able to succeed while maintaining their sanity.