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3 Simple Ways Leaders Can Promote Mental Health

When Your People Feel Unloved At Work 

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Mental health at work is a huge issue and it is not getting any better, statistics show that one in two employees are suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. Here are some tips for leaders on how to promote mental health at work.

They Don’t Care

As a manager and employee, I have uttered those words and heard them multiple times (usually laced with explicatives) within well-established organizations. Leaders are tasked to ensure workers align with the mission and associated bottom line, not necessarily the human energy behind that and your people notice. 

When your focus is only on the capacity to produce, and the rate that can happen, with little concern for the mechanics of production (aka the humans that do the work), you will ultimately have employee’s that don’t feel supported and who ultimately conclude “they don’t care about us.” Have you ever been in a relationship where you no longer felt cared for? How did that work out? 

65% of people are looking for new jobs because they are unhappy

cnbc.com

The truth is people were unhappy, stressed, overworked, and disconnected from the mission pre-pandemic. According to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, more days of work were lost related to stress and emotional health issues than many other chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and arthritis.  Couple that with a year fueled with uncertainty, with plenty of time to reflect on personal needs and aspirations, with a dash of new demands and mandates, and it’s like folks have found their come to Jesus moment around their priorities when it comes to their wellbeing. 

Why Should Leaders Care?  

Ignoring Employee Wellbeing Affects the Company’s Bottom Line.  Executives are reporting seeing a higher turnover than usual, and they are bracing for worse. What does that look like when it comes to your pockets? According to Employee Benefit News, employers spend an average of 33% of a worker’s annual salary replacing just one employee. Let’s put that into perspective: It will cost $12,000 to replace an entry-level employee making $36,000 a year. It will cost $20,000 to replace a manager making $60,000 a year.

Just as costly is the employee who can’t jump ship but have left you emotionally. Some of the “invisible” costs to a company include absenteeism, or those who miss work because of emotional or physical health reasons (both are strongly tied together), or presenteeism- those who come to work and do everything but that because they are mentally and emotionally absent from work.   

We tend to talk about those half-life worker bees as “stealing time”; however, what if some of this is your team communicating to you that they are overwhelmed, underused, tired, and in need of attention?

How Can Leaders Respond to The Crisis of Mental Health at Work?

Work on cultivating a culture of caring that includes normalizing the conversation of mental health, assessing the needs of your employees, and implementing onsite and ongoing support. There is a false sense of comfort in tasking wellness to only Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to address workplace mental health concerns or health insurance because the reality is, it isn’t enough. Most EAP’s only cover approx six sessions, and finding a mental health provider with availability that takes your insurance is like performing a magic trick these days. So while those ideas are well and good, it shouldn’t be the only strategy to support your team.

3 Simple Ways Leaders Can Promote Mental Health

Value and Encourage Employee Input (aka Listen to your people)

I was in a meeting once being welcomed by executive leadership and everything was great- They sounded glad to have me on board and painted an open door policy and then I accidently asked, “so if I have an issue can I come to you directly?” to which the lights dimmed, her eyes glared, a wisp of cool air entered the room, and a professional no fell out her mouth.

I understand that there is a hierarchy to how we do things. However, if leadership is drawing a line between genuinely knowing what is happening in the lower ranks and positing themselves to respond, it is already creating an atmosphere for chaos. I walked out of that meeting thinking they don’t give a shit what happens, and they lived up to that with poor dissemination of information, limited support, and ineffective leadership. Guess who left that job?

As a leader, you need a strong voice and boundaries, but you also need to know when it’s time to listen. Employees who provide direct service are the lifeline of your organization. When you make decisions without them, and they can’t see themselves in your larger vision, it can easily lead to a more significant situation.  

This pandemic has called for the acknowledgment of listening as a critical skill in the health of an organization. Active and empathic listening will allow managers and leaders to ask questions that get to real concerns before it becomes costly issues. Creating space for engagement and dialogue fosters a sense of belonging and respect. It also gives you a chance to grasp innovative ideas of your best assets that will eventually contribute to your bottom line. Employees who are engaged and included are more likely to navigate stress and overwhelm and less likely to find a new job. 

Create Opportunities for Advancement

Humans crave progress. Your people need to feel like they are on a path that leads somewhere and are a part of a culture that reflects the changing times. 

Do you know the areas your team members need the most support or want to develop? Is it communication, navigating emotions, resolving conflict, or improving professional skills? Do you create space for them to spend time on that within their workday? 

Have you created space not just for continuing education, but critical conversations that serve to dismantle any race-based bias limiting upward mobility within your organization? We exist in one of the most diverse times in history and are at the intersection of our own beliefs, personal experiences, community trauma, and change. We can’t pretend that also doesn’t walk into your workplace every day and impact your staff’s emotional safety and productivity.

Respect Your Limits and Bring in Support

While there is a considerable shift in recognizing the role of mental health at work, leaders themselves often don’t know where to start and are uncomfortable with critical next steps. In this instance, it is worth bringing in external expertise that isn’t wrapped up in the company dynamics to effectively lend perspective, skills, and support. 

Investing in external support can seem costly; however, when weighed against the cost of losing staff expertise, intellectual property, onboarding, and what you are hemorrhaging from presenteeism, it’s a minor drop in the retention bucket. Investing in a mentally healthy workforce is good for business, fosters a safe workplace, and improves the health of employees and your organization.

Amanda Fludd, LCSW-R, and Katiuscia Gray, LCSW-R, are Licensed Psychotherapists and Mental Health Consultants. They work in partnership with organizations and institutions like schools and universities to assess an organization’s emotional health designing customized mental health and wellness solutions.

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