The conversation surrounding business leadership and mental health often focuses on how executives can manage their stress and continue to lead effectively. However, business leaders also have an important role to play in addressing mental health issues among employees and maintaining a healthy work environment.
Many employees try to hide their mental health issues because they may feel like it would put their job at risk. However, 20 percent of Americans are living with mental illness, so it is likely that at least one person on your team faces this struggle. While it is impossible to know what people are dealing with when they are behind closed doors, leaders need to show empathy toward their employees and be prepared to offer them the support that they need to reach their full potential. Following are some of the key strategies that business leaders can use to promote employees’ well-being.
1. Look out for potential triggers in the workplace.
People can spend up to a third of their lives at the office, so it is important that this time does not feel like torture. Jobs naturally involve stress, but that does not mean that the workplace has to feel oppressive. Business leaders need to ensure that their employees actually like spending time at the office. Sometimes, offering free meals or organizing social events can help employees feel more at home in the workplace and build camaraderie among employees. However, leaders can also capitalize on much simpler solutions, such as making sure that everyone treats each other with kindness. When leaders point out unacceptable behavior, kindness becomes engrained in the culture. In addition, leaders should start to learn the individual triggers of their employees so that they can foresee issues and stop them before they become real problems.
2. Honor transparency in the office.
One of the biggest hurdles to creating a healthy space for mental health in the office is transparency. People are afraid to broach the conversation, so leaders need to set an example. When leaders launch the conversation themselves, they encourage others to join in and talk about their own experiences. While no one should ever feel bullied into sharing their stories, creating a culture that puts everything on the table relieves a lot of the anxiety that individuals may feel when it comes to disclosing their own issues. Leaders may want to talk about their own experiences with therapy or their encounters with mental health. Focus sessions or simply open dialogues will help to normalize the conversation about mental health so that employees who feel like they are struggling can speak up without fear of punishment.
3. Provide regular opportunities to take a time-out.
Mindfulness continues to be a buzzword in the business world and for good reason. Taking time out for mindfulness can increase focus and relive anxiety. Moreover, mindfulness can provide employees facing mental health challenges with a refreshing time-out. Creating a space for meditation in the office is an inexpensive and easy way to encourage employees to take mental health breaks and check in on their stress levels. Other employees may prefer some time to take a walk when the weather is nice or engage in some other kind of restful activity. Leaders can encourage this by asking people what they want in the office, from yoga to guided meditations, and then serve as a positive example. When leaders take mental health days, schedule walking meetings to get out of the office, and take regular breaks, they signal to other employees that it is acceptable for them to do the same.
4. Ensure that employees have access to adequate resources.
Offices can play a key role in connecting people to services. More progressive offices may actually create relationships with counselors that can provide a specific time and space for individuals to voice frustrations and concerns, although it can be just as helpful to develop a network of caring and trusted mental health professionals for referrals. Leaders cannot address the mental health concerns of all employees alone. Instead, they should focus on building relationships with other companies to pool resources and referrals so that when an issue comes up, the leader will know exactly whom to contact. When leaders can make an immediate suggestion for further assistance with a problem, it furthers the process of normalization and makes it seem like an everyday conversation which—in some offices—it could be.
5. Listen to the needs of employees.
People with mental health concerns have the greatest insight on how leaders can help them moving forward. Sometimes, people will need additional time off from work. In this situation, it may make sense to consider instituting an open policy on requesting leave, which normalizes the request and makes people feel like they are not asking for special treatment. Others may already have an idea of who can help them. In this case, it is the responsibility of business leaders to ensure that health insurance policies at the company make it possible to access these resources. When an employee opens up, leaders need to listen intently and make sure that they get exactly what they need to do their best. While this level of care requires some clever reverse engineering, it will ultimately result in a stronger team than can conquer anything.