It’s May, which means we’re all seeing the typical influx of Mental Health Awareness Month posts. They usually center around the same things that we as individuals can do to better our mental health – a lot of them, while important, are the same tropes we are used to reading about: Meditate! Read a book! Take a walk! Plant a garden! It all seems so easy.
One of these posts, recently shared by an old colleague of mine, highlighted something a bit different that caught my eye. This article spoke on the concept of flipping the paradigm of “mental health being the responsibility of each individual employee to it also being the responsibility of managers.”
This will be the second May that many of us are going to spend at home, social distancing, away from the office. Around this time last year, a Qualtrics study found that “mental health of almost 42% of respondents had declined since the outbreak began.” With our computers just…down the hallway/in the kitchen/laying next to us in bed – it’s easy to overwork and forget how important it is to take a step back and care for ourselves.
Yes! As leaders, our responsibility lies not only in inspiring our team to “get the job done”- our responsibility also lies in that team being happy and healthy.
So, here are a few things I’ve found impactful leaders do to support positive mental health:
Don’t just ask “how’s it going?” and fly by the answer. Actually ask the question and actually listen to the answer, with thoughtful follow-up questions. Show your vulnerability in conversation and let your team know that what they’re feeling isn’t weird, strange, or abnormal.
Give your people the freedom to find their own mental happiness by actively offering flexibility. Different people have different needs at different times, and leaders can help encourage direct reports to embrace flexibility and find their own sense of mental health. Harvard Business Review’s article on adjusting expectations as leaders is super poignant.
Stop putting obstacles in their way. Last July, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “the average workday lengthened by 48.5 minutes…and the number of meetings increased by 13%” once teams pivoted to remote work. The job of a leader is to make your team’s life easier. Stop with the pointless meetings – take a step back and ask yourself if you’re putting things on your teammates plates that aren’t helping them do their job better or increasing their earning capabilities.
It’s easy to tell your coworkers those same tropes – “you’ll feel better if you take a walk!” But the real impact comes by allowing your teammates to find out for themselves what best impacts their mental health.
Leaders have the ability to make an out-sized impact on the mental health of large employee populations through a proactive and thoughtful approach – let’s get to it!