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Lead well: Mental health strategies for leaders

3 min read

Lead well: Mental health strategies for leaders

In this session of Conversations at Work, we talked about taking care of yourself, your teammates, and building a culture of mental wellbeing.

One of the silver linings of the pandemic might be a greater awareness of mental health impacts on people at work. For leaders, there are two sides to this coin. First, acknowledging and acting on personal aspects of mental wellness so that we can be our best. Second, understanding and supporting team members as they grapple with myriad mental health pressures coming at them, every day. To lead well, we need a robust strategy for leaders, with humility, courage, and compassion.

With that goal in mind, this Conversations at Work session combined the voices of two seasoned mental wellness advocates leading the way for leader wellness. We welcomed Megan McAllister and Sean Raible, both experts in the field of HR consulting, whose personal mental health journeys have informed their focus on wellness in the workplace.

In this event, we dug into the biggest steps we can take to bring wellness into focus in the workplace:

1. We need to look after ourselves

Today’s leaders are living through a burnout crisis. As we’ve dealt with more stress in our own lives, it’s become so much harder to approach leadership with the compassion and focus that it deserves. 

This is made even worse by burnout stigma: many leaders struggle to realize or admit that they’re struggling to deal with stress, making it impossible to solve. That’s why being honestly self-reflective is so challenging, yet so important.

Once we recognize the need to look after ourselves, what steps can we take? 

Megan told us about the importance of setting boundaries. She stressed that they don’t have to be complicated or scary, but can be as simple as letting yourself say no to things or setting a time to sign off for the day. An added benefit of setting boundaries as a leader is that it sets a precedent for your team to take care of themselves too.

Sean expanded on this point by reminding us that mental wellness and business aren’t at odds with each other. It often takes time, but a focus on wellbeing can have a measurable ROI, whether that’s in employee satisfaction metrics or even in the bottom line. Understanding this makes time spent on practices like mindfulness, gratitude, and self-talk feel worthwhile.

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2. We need to look after our people

It’s easy to recognize that your employees need a helping hand, but it can be a serious puzzle figuring out actionable steps you can take. A great place to start is by opening the dialogue surrounding mental health in the workplace. Being vulnerable about your own struggles (in whatever capacity you can) can be huge for normalizing that culture in the workplace, and encouraging people to get to know each other on a more personal level.

Another more concrete step that we can take is ensuring that your employees have access to the support they need. Big steps that can be taken in that area are removing any restrictions to resources for employees, and thoroughly investigating the support that you give them access to. Megan reminded us that whoever supports your employees is an extension of your culture, so it’s important that those resources are right for your team.

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3. Let’s create a wellness-focused workplace

The ultimate goal for leaders who care about employee wellbeing is a culture that recognizes and values mental health. What does that culture look like and how can we achieve it?

Leaders walk the walk: Everyone in leadership takes responsibility for their own wellbeing and makes a genuine effort to support their employees. Get leaders on board by being loud about what’s important to you and demonstrating that this is a need for employees through metrics or easy wins.

Avoid toxic positivity: Support offered is genuine and negative experiences are validated. Understand that your employees won’t always be doing well, and make their struggles feel valid by offering real support like paid mental health days, counselling, or access to other resources.

The culture builds itself: Build culture-contribution into the fabric of the business. Challenge what you celebrate and reward at work. Rather than focusing on hours worked or output, reward contributions to the culture.

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Conclusion

Business has been around for a long time, but genuine focus on mental wellbeing hasn’t. Because of this, working to implement change is truly difficult. But if you are, keep it up! Know that what you’re doing is fundamentally important and that it will make a difference.

If you’re interested in learning more, take a look at our full conversation below.

C@W 2021-05-26
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Vincent Bulloch

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