It’s scientifically proven that humans need some stress to perform at their best. A little stress for short amounts of time is good; the stress we’ve been living with over the past 18 months is bad. We’re all feeling it: business owners, leaders, employees, kids who can’t go to school like they normally do…
It’s fitting that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week because there’s never been a more important time to check in on the wellbeing of yourself and of your employees.
As an employer, there are things you can do to assist the wellbeing and mental health of your team. Here are 10 things to consider:
1. The obvious one is to have decent flexibility around working.
Those people who have children at home while in level 3 are doing it hard – a workday is tough enough never mind throwing in home-schooling and parenting simultaneously. Formal acknowledgement that it is ok for them to be a little less productive than usual is a big stress reliever for parents.Outside of Covid restrictions, consider changing working hours to suit. I have some clients who change their working hours during certain seasons (ie their quieter months); employees can start a bit later or finish earlier on certain days. The team love it and look forward to these days. Just having that little bit more time at home with the family or to do personal chores is greatly appreciated. As various four-day working week studies have shown, your team will still get their job done even if they have a few less hours to do it in, such is the human psyche.To help normalise mental health issues, some of our clients have changed the term ‘sick days’ to be ‘wellbeing days’ and actively encourage their people to take a day off when things are just too much.
2. Forget the old adage of leaving your personal life at the door – that doesn’t fly any more.
It is so important to encourage your people to bring their whole self to work – the good and the bad (because the bad will come, regardless, affecting their productivity). One of the biggest drivers of mental health and stress issues in a job is a lack of open communication. It’s hard to know how to help your employees when you simply don’t know that they’re not coping. And it’s especially hard for someone to bring their best at work when they’re battling personally. Get better at asking the how they are feeling – are they ok? Good leaders understand what is happening in their people’s personal lives. Maybe they have a young child that isn’t sleeping. A sick parent. Issues in their marriage. Money troubles. If you don’t ask, you won’t know and then everyone suffers. If you think a team member hasn’t been themselves of late, address it and ask them, ‘I’ve noticed you’re not yourself lately, is there anything up?’. This will hopefully lead onto how you might practically be able to assist them with whatever is going on.
3. Proactive companies help their team with their mental health and wellbeing by having a EAP, XAP or a great counsellor who their team can chat to in their hour of need.
It’s amazing what talking to a professional can do for someone’s mental health, especially if they don’t have such an outlet in their life. All discussions are confidential so your employee can chat, knowing the detail of working through their challenges is private. At least 50% of our business owner and leader client base speak to a counsellor regularly and one of our missions at Business Changing is to normalise that this a good thing – my wife and I personally see a counsellor and get so many benefits from it! There are plenty of good apps that can also help, like Sir John Kirwan’s Mentemia, Remente and Headspace. Some of our clients pay for their entire team to access such apps and counselling, a strong signal that they take the wellbeing of their people very seriously.
4. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable as a leader.
For many people, there’s still the stigma that saying they’re struggling or depressed or anxious is saying they’re a failure. Sharing that you’ve felt the same at times helps normalises these feelings, removing the shame or embarrassment. “Name it to shame it” is what Jon Bridges says – bringing a personal issue or challenge out into the light is the first step, and if you can encourage your team to be honest about how they’re feeling with you and others, they’ll make progress on their wellbeing. In business everything starts from the top and vulnerability is no different. A culture of openness and vulnerability is a positive thing. Normalise that it’s okay to ask for help and that it is ok to talk freely about your personal struggles.
5. Be proactive in trying to find out what is causing people stress at work.
You can do this via an anonymous survey, software like Joyous or one-on-one chats. Find out whether it’s manageable stress or causing them real issues. The most important thing is not just to find out about what work issues are causing stress but to actually do something about it. Common examples of work-related issues causing stress I see are: under-performance by others in their team, a negative person in the team, poor team leadership, dual standards, unattainable standards, having too much on their plates, not enough training, or just an overall lack of teamwork. The list is endless and the easiest way to find out is to ask them where they think your workplace and team can improve. Fixing the weak links in your business has a big impact on team morale and wellbeing.
6. Make the workplace a safe place.
I believe it is the responsibility of leaders to make sure everybody is treated fairly and with respect. The best leaders are good human beings, just like the best people are good human beings. Ideally you only have good human beings in your team but sometimes, someone less ideal might sneak in… One area people are often scared to speak up is when there is bullying or toxicness that makes them dread going to work. In your staff catchups, ask the question, ‘Are there any work relationships that are not as positive as they could be or should be?’ I’d also strongly recommend that you have a policy on bullying and sexual harassment.
7. Hold “stay” interviews.
You know how best practice says you should do an exit interview when someone leaves? How about you also do a stay interview? Find out all the good and not so good things about your workplace and how your people are really feeling “real time”, before it is too late and they have resigned… This is a proactive approach to employee wellbeing – making sure they feel heard and listened to – and it’s especially important in today’s incredibly tight job market. We all know the angst in trying to find good people so do all you can to grow the retention of your team; make your team happy and satisfied in their work so they don’t want to see if the grass is greener elsewhere. In my experience, most people leave because they feel unvalued, unheard and unappreciated by their current boss – do a stay interview and see if you can turn that around.
8. Develop your managers to be better managers.
Half of people leave their job because of their team leader. Managers can cause a heap of stress to the team below them, from mis-communication, unrealistic productivity targets, micromanaging, being unavailable – the list goes on. To improve your employees’ wellbeing, develop your managers. Many get promoted without any training but they need it. How can you tell if your managers need help? Do a leadership 360 feedback or try what I call a ‘skip 1-on-1’ which is where the manager’s manager does a 1-on-1 chat with a team member. Here, the manager’s manager can ask some great questions to ensure the manager is doing well leading their team and to identify potential areas of improvement to help the team’s wellbeing and their success.
9. Make it clear you your team’s mental health is important to you.
If people feel like they work for a company that cares about mental health, they’re more likely to address theirs. Bring in guest speakers to share their expertise on key aspects of mental health or just get the team together to watch a leading YouTube speaker on such topics. Do what you can to help your team recognise the signs that they are under stress as well as giving them tools to help them to be more resilient. Seeing you as a leader who is trying to equip them with skills to get through life might be the push your people need to speak up when they need to about their challenges; normalise that it is ok to talk about such things.
10. Allow your team to have time out.
Once an employee is home, they should be off-bounds, unless it’s life or death. Do they really need to reply to the email you send at 7.55pm – or even read it? Let them switch off outside of work hours. In my view, the best workplaces would have a written policy that you are not required to reply to after-hours emails until the next working day. Make it obvious to your staff that it is ok for them not to reply – or try not to send after-hour emails in the first place! It also can cause immense stress at home having to explain to your loved ones why you are always working after-hours. Of course, if you find it’s necessary for you to work after hours constantly, you should talk to your boss as you quite simply might just have too much on your plate… Humans are not robots and our ability to deal with everyday stresses is directly related to us having some downtime so make sure after-hours is out of bounds.
Most people work for around 40 hours a week – that’s longer than we spend doing anything else – so it makes sense that how we feel at work impacts on our mental state. As an employer, we have a responsibility to do what we can to look after our employee’s wellbeing and overall mental health while at work. If you can make your workplace one where everyone feels heard and valued and looked after, you’ll have no trouble attracting the best talent in the future, which is only going to help you be more successful as an organisation.