For almost 70% of people, their manager has a greater impact on their mental health than their doctor or therapist.
As a leader this may be alarming as it comes with added responsibility, but it is also incredibly empowering. It presents a wonderful opportunity for you to have a real impact within your team, not just in their working lives, but in their lives outside of the workplace too.
Therefore, as a leader you do have a critical role to play in the mental health of your workplace. So how can you ensure you fulfil this role in a positive way - without shouldering everyone’s burdens?
Lead by Example
It can be tempting to take on extra workload yourself. To put in the extra hours to just get things done. To be answering emails late at night and on weekends. However, your team is likely to see this as the ‘expected norm’ - ‘that’s what my manger is doing, so I should too’. If this is you, try to think of what you actually expect of your team members. What hours and behaviours do you wish for them? What is a reasonable expectation of their role? Then model that behaviour. This could be not answering emails out of hours. Or taking a lunch break to go for a walk, or get some exercise in. Or when taking on extra work, asking yourself what do I need to let go of to do this extra piece of work? Your team members will emulate your habits, make sure they are good ones.
This won’t just improve your team’s mental health and work/life balance, it will pay dividends in yours too.
Know your Impact
With the awareness of the impact you have on the mental health of your team, it is important to be aware of your influence too. Showing empathy for your team members is a great way to act on this added responsibility. Ask how they are doing – both in and out of work. Really listen to their answers. Give them a place to feel safe and comfortable to share their concerns, and of course their wins. Provide support and resources where possible. Connect them to the right people. Be a signpost for them, and ensure you provide them the opportunity to get the help they may need.
However, it is important to remember it is not your responsibility to take on their problems or fix them. They are adults, it is their responsibility to act on the help and support you can provide.
Stress is like the Goldilocks and the Three Bears story. We can obviously have too much, but equally we can have too little. It is important we have the right amount of stress, not to feel overwhelmed, but also not to remain unchallenged. You can achieve this by ensuring your team have opportunities to be challenged, to learn and to grow in areas that are meaningful to them. Find out what their aspirations are in and out of work. Not everyone will want to climb the career ladder in the same fashion. By having these conversations you may find some untapped talent for another area of the business hidden in your team. Or maybe you can provide support to a cause or charity very close to someone’s heart through your work.
By being curious about people, and what motivates them allows people to feel seen and heard. It recognises their value. Connecting people’s aspirations and values to the company and its values gives meaning to their work. It creates purpose, solidarity, and security in the workplace - an environment which fosters positive mental health.
Letting your team know it is OK not be OK is an incredibly powerful and supportive message. Showing that your human, that you are vulnerable, can help people feel psychologically safer to admit, accept and take action in their own mental health. By sharing your own mental health story with your team not only opens a dialog about mental health, but it also provides a role model. It can provide them with the confidence to manage and overcome their challenges. Sharing your story send an authentic message that it is OK to be vulnerable, it is not a weakness to be hidden. It is OK to seek help. It helps to remove the intrenched stigma attached to mental health, and normalises that we all have ups and downs.
This type of role modelling shows the strength and courage in prioritising and addressing our mental health. It shows what the path, and the other side can look like. It demonstrates that it is possible to succeed and thrive with a mental health challenge.
What one thing can you do today to support your team’s Mental Health?