Supporting Your Team's Mental Health
Emotional and mental health in the workplace is being openly discussed more and more - and that’s a good thing! So, how can you best support your team while encouraging them to prioritize mental wellbeing? As a manager, it’s important to be open and communicative with your teams and to be able to recognize the signs of burnout. Most employers are already conducting regular productivity check-ins with their teams, but if you’re not addressing mental and emotional health during these check-points you may be missing the mark. If you’re concerned about burnout on your team or would like to help your employees be more mindful of emotional and mental health, read on to make sure you’re taking all the necessary steps.
1. Take It Seriously.
In professional settings, it’s common to hear the question “How are you?” met with an automatic reply of, “I’m good, how are you?”. If you want a sincere answer to the question, try posing it in a different way. Try asking how someone is feeling, how they are managing their workload, or even if they did anything fun during the weekend. Remind them that you care about the person behind the work and that your company values a work/life balance. Before the pandemic, it was commonplace for employees to drag themselves into the office even if they weren’t feeling their best. This pressure to perform takes a toll on the physical and mental health of workers and leads to sub-par work. Rather than pushing employees past their limits, open a line of communication that allows for concerns to be raised. If a team member seems hesitant to express that they are feeling overwhelmed, you can start the conversation by mentioning what you’ve noticed without judgment, or by sharing how you have been feeling similarly overwhelmed. Then you can brainstorm solutions together.
2. Be Flexible.
Being accommodating doesn’t mean lowering performance standards. Instead, flexibility can help your team thrive. If it seems like teams are generally overworked or the office feels high-stress, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your policies surrounding work hours, paid time off, email, or phone communication. For example, if business allows, you can remind team members to turn off email notifications once they log off for the day and on weekends. You should expect that your employee’s needs, and your own, will evolve over time and it’s vital to be aware and empathetic towards any unique situations. Be explicit about changes being made for mental health accommodation. Proactively offering flexibility, setting clear expectations, and providing effective feedback are some of the most certain methods to alleviate stress on your team. But what does it mean to proactively offer flexibility? Many companies have opted to refine policies surrounding defined or rigid work hours, instead offering flexibility to working parents or caretakers of any kind. If your organization put accommodations in place due to COVID-19 - be clear with your team as to what changes are permanent, or how expectations will shift when returning to a pre-pandemic level of normalcy. When team members are aware that leadership is invested in their mental well-being, they will put more effort into their projects. Checking in regularly, especially during transitional periods, will allow you to assist your team in creatively solving workload problems.
3. Model It.
Leading by example is one of the best methods of good management and it definitely applies here. If you want to create and maintain a supportive work environment, especially in times of uncertainty and stress, the first step is to acknowledge that your team members aren’t the only ones feeling vulnerable. By sharing your own experiences, you encourage others to follow suit. This will help normalize the behavior of checking in on one another! Additionally, don’t say one thing and do another. If you ask your team to avoid working outside of normal business hours or ask to ensure they take their full break, you should do the same. During the pandemic, studies show that workers at all levels experienced a rise in work-related stress - from entry-level positions to the C-Suite. Showing what you do to take care of your own mental health can inspire the same activity in others.
4. Listen Effectively.
While many of us believe we’re already great listeners, we could be better at it. Sometimes we’re busy thinking of a response to what the person we’re listening to is saying, or maybe we get lost in thinking of the next task on our to-do list. Listening effectively means paying attention to both the content of the message and the tone it’s being delivered with. Actively hearing the tone in a person’s voice will allow you to more carefully receive and interpret the message. Once someone is finished speaking, resist the urge to give immediate advice or feedback. Reflect back on what you heard and ask inquisitive questions, not just general ones. Listening to the needs of your team members can also mean doing temperature checks by means of surveys or anonymous feedback platforms. If the idea of communicating stress levels directly to a supervisor is new to your team, they might shy away from doing so at all. Utilizing online surveys to pulse check the primary stresses and needs of staff can be an excellent way to ease into the norm of mental health check-ins.
Managers and team leaders don’t have to pry into their employee’s personal lives, but taking the time to connect with your team regarding mental health shows them that they are valued for both their work and their time. As we are learning, the emphasis we place on work/life balance affects employees’ mental and emotional health, as well as their productivity and performance. A healthy team is a strong team, and we all want our people to succeed. The bottom line is checking in on and supporting your team members in an appropriate way introduces more empathy into our work culture -- and that is invaluable in any environment.