By Paulina Carbonaro
Mental illness affects close to 1 billion of the world’s population and costs the global economy US $1 trillion in productivity losses. At a micro level, think of the impact that mental ailments could have on the productivity of your department: disengagement, workplace conflict, decreased output, absenteeism or presenteeism, and strained relationships are just some examples.
It’s in your best interest as a people manager to learn how to support your employees and remove any undue workplace stressors that could be damaging to mental health.
What is workplace mental health? Understand the impact.
The average person spends 8 hours a day at work where, depending on the nature of the job, we are constantly put to the test, asked to meet demands under deadlines, and must collaborate with myriad personalities. The pressure is on. It’s rare to see a job description without the “must work well in a fast-paced environment” criteria. We all want high performers on our team and to be that department known for producing results quickly. All this can very easily culminate into work stress and if not managed well, cascade to burnout, anxiety, and depression.
As a manager, it’s helpful to take a step back and assess your department for mental health risks. Ask yourself some key questions to start:
Does everyone treat each other with respect and civility?
Is everyone easily managing their workload?
Do my employees feel valued and recognized for the work that they do?
Are my expectations clear?
Does my team uphold work-life balance?
Do my employees feel safe and supported?
Understanding the impact of the workplace on mental health is critical for leaders because we can action change if needed. Get to know how your team operates and the needs and opportunities of individual employees through regular surveys, 1-on-1s, and opportunities for transparent feedback.
Here are a few great resources to help you understand the risks to mental health in the workplace:
National Geographic: The Science of Stress
Center for Workplace Mental Health
CAMH: Workplace Mental Health Playbook for Business Leaders
Normalize mental health at work by making it a common goal.
In many ways employee wellbeing is a group effort, not just the responsibility of team managers. Make it a common and inclusive goal for your employees by inviting everyone to participate in defining and building a healthy work culture. Regularly talk to your team about positive workplace habits, provide resources to educate them, and check-in to ensure they are heeding your advice.
To facilitate this common goal, you can help reduce workplace threats to mental wellbeing by:
Optimizing processes: Processes are necessary as they provide clear steps and guidelines for how things are done at organizations. But some steps within those processes can be roadblocks for employees, causing frustration. Look at all the processes within your department and identify whether any of them could be streamlined. Ask your team members for feedback and implement changes where necessary.
Increasing worker control: Give your employees autonomy over how they do their work, what type of work they want to specialize in, and be flexible with their schedules. In short, give everyone a voice. Time and again studies have shown how important this is to our mental and even physical health.
Improving dialogue: Lack of communication between team members could be damaging to productivity and breed a culture of exclusivity. As the team lead, you can facilitate frequent dialogue and inclusivity. If working remotely, provide your team with communication tools. Regularly organize team meetings and encourage sharing of ideas.
Restructuring tasks: It’s easy to lose sight of everyone’s workload and imbalances happen. Keep an eye on tasks and ensure that they are distributed as evenly as possible. When one person seems to be carrying more of the load and working overtime more frequently, offer support and consider reallocating some tasks to other team members. Also, make sure that your department has enough staff.
Recognizing and rewarding contributions: Recognition helps employees feel valued. It’s an important act by the manager and has many benefits from longer employee retention to higher engagement. You don’t have to sound the trumpets every time your employees do good work, but regularly acknowledging that they did goes a long way towards building their confidence. At the same time, be careful not to stigmatize failure. We learn from mistakes and a healthy workplace will recognize that.
Clearly defining roles and responsibilities: There is nothing more frustrating for employees than being confused about what they have to do. If you don’t clearly communicate your expectations, this could lead to feelings of failure and conflict between employees. Make sure that everyone on your team has a specific role and they understand what the expectations are.
Establishing conflict resolution practices: Conflicts within the workplace are inevitable but how you address it is what makes the difference. If there is a conflict that any one of your employees cannot resolve on their own, it would be helpful for them to know that they can come to you to provide guidance, for example. When employees know what to do when a conflict arises and that they are not stuck or alone, it alleviates some of the anxiety.
Lastly, don’t just say you support mental health but be the person who works long hours without rest and answers emails at 11pm. Demonstrate it by caring for yourself as well. Take breaks, make use of vacation time, set boundaries during off hours, and find ways to unplug and de-stress. If you do, your team will too.