More than 44 million adults in the US suffer from a mental health condition according to the mental health association of America. It is interesting to note that most people navigating mental health issues are functioning adults struggling to navigate the demands of everyday life.
The State of Mental Health report shows that 1 out of 10 employees is experiencing severe mental health challenges such as depression, impairing their ability to function at home, school, or work.
Further reports show that nearly 81% of employees experience some form of burnout or mental health issues, and nearly 68% of employees say their daily work is interrupted because of these challenges.
The business case for mental health in the workplace?
As the upheaval of the past two years abates, the conversation around mental health is gaining greater momentum in the enterprise. Promoting the psychological well-being of employees is emerging as an important leadership competency as it contributes directly to employee engagement, productivity, and creativity.
High-stress levels and poor mental health, on the contrary, lead to lower productivity and higher absenteeism. Low levels of employee engagement and higher attrition are also a consequence of poor mental health in the workplace.
A ‘Labour force survey in the EU, candidate and EFTA countries’ reveals that these geographies lost £13 billion because employees called in sick or lost productivity due to mental health issues.
Clearly, a hyper-focus on mental health is now not only important for employee well-being; it is also essential for good business outcomes.
The Role of Managers in Improving Mental Health in The Workplace
An article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review throws great insight into the rising importance of mental well-being in the workplace. According to it, ignoring the mental well-being of the employees is as good as “ignoring the well-being of the company itself, since cultural and behavioral changes that address the mental health of [the] workforce are a pre-condition for growth.”
Stress and anxiety have been resonating themes across the enterprise, especially over the past two years. Employees have had to adopt new ways of working and have had to take the balancing act a step too far. With blurring boundaries as work and life integrated, many struggled to adapt to the new normal, one where online and offline worlds intersect seamlessly, and distributed teams become the norm.
The rules of engagement have since indelibly changed. Managers are now the navigators of engagement and productivity for their teams. They are now the bridge that builds trust and delivers enablement at work. Along with driving the productivity of teams, they need to focus more on understanding the influencers of productivity.
So, what can managers do to promote mental health and well-being in the workplace?
The first thing that managers need to do to improve mental well-being is to learn to listen closely to everything that is being said and what is being implied. Actively listening to team members and allowing them to speak openly about the highs and lows that come with the job is essential to build trust.
Managers also need to display vulnerability and move away from the traditional ‘tough guy’ image. Speaking about work pressures and emotional challenges they experienced and how they overcome them gives employees more confidence in talking about issues plaguing them.
Managers must also capably identify both verbal and non-verbal clues that signal poor mental well-being, high-stress levels, or any such issues that impact mental health. Mastering the art of non-judgmental questioning help employee to open up and guide them to possible solutions also becoming pathways to improving mental health in the workplace.
Support diversity, inclusion, and belonging more deeply
Mental health and diversity, inclusion, and belonging (D&I) are deeply interconnected. Unconscious biases, microaggressions, lacking representation and other such stressors impact mental health in the workplace since these negatively impact psychological safety.
Managers are in a position to bolster inclusivity and access and belonging in an organization. Their sense of fairness and seriousness towards D&I initiatives influences the quality of mental well-being in the workplace. They are the spokespersons of their team members and thus have to leverage their influence to push for policies and processes that create and deliver a more equitable workplace.
Educate them to act correctly
Managers are almost like the ‘first responders’ when it comes to identifying and addressing mental health issues in the workplace. They must know how to respond correctly to mental health issues and challenges and develop greater empathy and understanding of their team members.
They also need to be coached to identify their personal biases, belief systems, and behaviors that could impede mental health efforts in the workplace. Developing a non-judgmental language, being open to having mental health conversations, and developing trust within teams become managerial responsibilities to drive well-being at work.
Build a Connected Culture Without Micromanaging
The hybrid workplace demands managers to become more intentional in checking in with their team members regularly. While this approach was often underutilized in the pre-pandemic days, the hybrid workplace demands greater focus.
Asking their team members about challenges they face, encouraging questions and concerns, discovering solutions, and listening deeply without judgment are key prerogatives for managers. They must do the balancing act here and express concerns without being overbearing. Anything that signals micromanaging could be misconstrued as a lack of trust which is detrimental to employee wellbeing.
Managers, as such, need to provide a safe space for their team members to be vulnerable and develop their coaching vocabulary to help problem-solve any emerging issues.
Finally, managers have to ramp up their communication skills to improve mental health across the organizations. Keeping teams informed about organizational changes and updates, clarifying work hours and norms, setting clear expectations about workloads, prioritizing effectively, and addressing what’s not working all fall under the communication umbrella. Mastering the art of communication as such becomes a critical KPI for managers in this age when mental health is a business imperative.
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