Clear Leadership and Mental Health
Today’s relentless pace and uncertainty in business are taking a heavy toll on all of us. Leaders may strive to be purpose-driven, impactful, and innovative, but they are frequently hijacked by constant crisis management and the pressure to provide a voice for everyone. Add to that the exhaustion of attempting to cover the workload of absent colleagues—those infected with COVID and those who left as part of the Great Resignation.
The truth is that the cumulative impact of two years in this chaotic environment with its never-ending pivots has weighed heavily on many leaders. Nonetheless, they are now being asked to actively protect and prioritize their employees’ mental health. Leaders may be dealing with stress in addition to feeling ill-equipped to take on that responsibility.
Leaders must protect themselves.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I’m not a mental health professional, but I’d like to help leaders navigate these difficult times. Below are some suggestions for those working to protect their own mental health as well as the mental health of their team members.
Allow yourself to let go of unrealistic expectations.
Perfection isn’t the goal right now, so let yourself off the hook consciously. Do you really need a 10-page report, or could you share the information in an email? Yes, you still have non-negotiable deliverables and deadlines, but consider whether there are any unnecessary tasks you could eliminate in order to better care for yourself. You may have more control over your schedule than you realize.
Maintain your connection.
During times of chaos, you may feel solely responsible for assisting everyone else on your team in remaining calm. That is a lot of pressure! You, too, require and deserve assistance, so don’t go it alone.
Discuss your unique challenges with a trusted advisor or close colleagues. Consider what organisational psychologist Adam Grant refers to as “reciprocity circles”—groups of peers who meet monthly to discuss their challenges and brainstorm solutions. And, if you require assistance, do not hesitate to contact a professional.
Divide your “worry time” into sections.
Thinking through the worst-case scenario and developing a detailed contingency plan can be cathartic for some people. I understand if you are one of those people. Spend some time, however, developing a plan for the most likely outcome.\
Set aside a day and time when you can devote your full attention to this type of planning. Stop going over it in your head once you’ve finished it. Concentrate all of your efforts on achieving positive results. And if that fails, you’ll know exactly what to do.
Leaders must support their team members.
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Become familiar with your company’s mental health benefits and resources.
Learn about the types of assistance your company provides and how to access those benefits. When one of your employees is dealing with mental health issues, they may not have the time to sift through the system and figure it out on their own. You can encourage them to seek assistance by providing a clear roadmap.
Demonstrate what it means to safeguard your mental health.
Your attitudes and actions can aid in the de-stigmatization of mental health issues. Inform your team about your efforts to protect your mental health and encourage them to do the same. Maybe you say you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, so you’re taking a day off to spend with your family. Perhaps you avoid scheduling meetings after 5:00 p.m. in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance. When you set that example, you are giving your team members “permission” to prioritise and protect their own mental health.
Maintain open lines of communication.
It is now more important than ever to maintain an open line of communication with your team members about their work, their well-being, and their challenges. (Try to listen more than you speak.) Consider doing more one-on-one check-ins, daily huddles, or virtual “open office hours.” That being said, be deliberate in your communication. Avoid inundating them with emails and meetings. In fact, you could even institute an occasional “no-meetings day” to allow employees to catch up on work and relax.
Adjust your expectations as needed.
I know. This isn’t always possible (quality control!). However, there may be times when you can revisit workloads and performance expectations to assist employees in reducing stress. If they are already working long hours and skipping lunch, they are unlikely to be enthusiastic about resiliency training. That’s just another thing they have to deal with. Instead, look into ways to assist them in reducing unnecessary tasks and eliminating redundancies.
Assist employees in finding meaning in their work.
People are less stressed when they have clear goals and are genuinely connected to their purpose. Learn what motivates your employees. Have discussions with them about their career goals. What types of training or experiences would better prepare them to achieve their objectives? If you take an active role in assisting them on their journey, you can help to improve their outlook, confidence, and mental health.
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