Mental Health and Wellbeing Still Matter
The return to work has redefined the way leaders operate within and beyond the office, but one thing hasn’t changed: Mental health and wellbeing still matter. A recent study by Mind Share Partners, in partnership with Qualtrics and SAP, showed a decline in the mental health of nearly half of respondents since the onset of the pandemic. Nationwide, almost half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. We all know someone who’s reeling from a rise in workplace-related anxiety and stress.
It could even be us.
While treatment of serious mental health concerns should be left to trained professionals, there are steps that every leader can take to alleviate the toll on employee wellbeing. These practices can provide a much-needed lift to those who may be experiencing heightened fears about their emotional and even physical health.
Care for employees with high-touch communication.
As teams continue to work in hybrid and flexible arrangements, it’s crucial that managers remain visible by communicating with frequency and intention. By staying in regular contact with employees, leaders can spot signs of emotional wear-and-tear before they become more pronounced. More importantly, dedicating time and resources to these check-ins sends a clear message to people that their emotional health matters.
Scarcity of time is no excuse. For especially busy clients, I’ve recommended a “15-2-1” approach: Spend 15 minutes once a week talking to two members of your team. Making these conversations ritualized and routine eases some of the discomfort and stigma that may arise when discussing mental health (“This doesn’t apply to me” or “I’m doing fine, why bother?”) and can yield positive, business-oriented results for managers and employees alike.
For high-touch communication that goes beyond trite greetings, try these helpful prompts:
- Do you feel like you have enough time to get your work done in a reasonable manner?
- How do you feel at the start and end of your day?
- Are you finding ways to stay connected to the team?
- How can I support you?
Allow others to reframe and refocus.
Researchers have demonstrated the restorative effects of reframing and refocusing in alleviating emotional pain. According to one study, individuals who suffered setbacks but then envisioned a brighter future through “prospective writing” experienced a sense of post-traumatic growth. Other studies have shown that individuals coped better with significant life changes when they actively focused on their core values and beliefs.
These are not clever tricks to bypass real concerns. Rather, they are powerful frameworks for helping your employees gain control over fears both real and imagined by enlisting the support of those closest to them. Leaders can play a pivotal role in facilitating this process simply by showing up for their employees with offers of compassion, concern and commitment. Just knowing that someone is there to help is all the reassurance we need.
Pay attention to physical indicators and nonverbal cues.
Individuals who are struggling with stress and anxiety often show signs of distress. Early indicators include changes in behavior and mood, as well as nonverbal cues like alienating body language and disposition. Attentive leaders should be aware of the following red-flag behaviors by employees:
- Exhibiting excessive nervousness, restlessness, or irritability
- Acting overly passive, worried or tense
- Avoiding group gatherings, whether in-person or virtual
- Showing visible signs of fatigue, aches or pains
For leaders, paying attention pays off: Researchers have found that people volunteer less information and speak less articulately when talking to inattentive bosses, whereas attentive bosses — as measured by their awareness of nonverbal cues — receive more relevant and detailed information even without having to ask for it. Before you can advocate for others, you need to notice how they communicate their unspoken needs.
Just because we’re back together doesn’t mean that people are back to their old selves. Now’s the time for leaders to prioritize the mental and emotional wellbeing of their employees as a matter of sound practice. Organizations achieve a higher order of purpose when they help individuals experience a deeper sense of wholeness.