Taking leadership on mental health
Todd Westwood has advice on how to get your employees mentally match fit. In the workplace, mental health is sometimes more important than physical health. If a team member gets sick or injured, they take time off work. They’re expected to rest up, look after themselves, and return when well enough. From a business standpoint, […]
Todd Westwood has advice on how to get your employees mentally match fit.
In the workplace, mental health is sometimes more important than physical health.
If a team member gets sick or injured, they take time off work. They’re expected to rest up, look after themselves, and return when well enough. From a business standpoint, it’s fairly straightforward. That’s what sick leave is there for. It’s a dollars-and-cents discussion, right?
Mental health is another ball game altogether.
If an employee is dealing with the tough stuff – like stress, anxiety, or grief – they might still turn up at work. They’ll clock in, but might be unfocused, distracted, and can weigh down others around them. All of this results in low productivity, something that New Zealand is already dragging behind on. More specifically, these factors can have massive knock-on effects for your business.
Your team member might be going through a rough patch in their relationship, struggling to manage household finances, or looking after an unwell family member. They might be worried about their career, or a conflict at work. It’s important to remember that any of us could experience ill mental health during tough times. That’s what makes us human.
But when they turn up at work, they’re not mentally ‘match fit’. And when it’s your employee – your business, that’s when it becomes your issue too.
All of us bring our full selves to work. “Leave your problems at the door” the old (and outdated!) saying goes. It doesn’t work that way. Mental health, in the workplace, is a much trickier and more crucial part of employee wellbeing.
Many business leaders might say: “Well, I’ve invested in a good HR department or employee assistance programme, I give free gym memberships or corporate discounts, and I offer good benefits and leave. What else can I do?”
Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as that. You have to enable your teams to actually use these services when they need to. It’s not enough to stick a poster on a bathroom door, or use an intranet message.
So, what can you do to help your workforce become mentally match fit?
First, demonstrate that it’s OK to need support.
That means you. You’ve got to lead by example. When you’re honest about your own life and situation – that’s a key step in establishing group trust. Yes, this might mean opening up a bit too – but doing so demonstrates to your team that their workplace is a safe place to talk about facing difficulties and the impact on mental health.
Then, your HR person, or EAP team, will take over the reins when your team really needs that support. You’re not expected to do the heavy lifting the whole way – but you should be expected to do your utmost to make sure they know how, when, why, and what kind of help is available to them.
Leaders who believe in their wellbeing programmes, discuss their own experiences and open the floor for other senior managers to do so too – that’s what I consider leadership.
Make time to check in
If you’re the boss, your time and attention is a valuable currency. Asking how someone is, privately, and making sure they trust that you’re asking from a place of caring, not performance management, can be massive.
Your employees will be predisposed not to show signs of stress, worry, or ill mental health. It makes them vulnerable to their co-workers and managers. New Zealand has a long history of a ‘harden up’ culture, and it’s been pretty damaging for our collective mental health.
So, where possible, offer your team the opportunity to be honest with you. Ask them how they are, but really give them the opportunity to speak. If you spend an extra five minutes talking about their partner’s health, that’s five minutes spent on helping your team member feel more connected to you, your business, and the rest of their team, which supports them to be more productive. Five minutes well spent.
Bring leadership along on the journey
There’s a very clear case to be made as to why using employee assistance programmes is beneficial to a business. Lack of focus, low productivity, and less-than-ideal workplace culture are all contributing factors to subpar business performance. This means more hours spent for less completed projects, or less revenue, and more interpersonal issues for HR to spend hours solving.
Your directors might not see your team on the ground, so it may be your role and responsibility to represent the needs of the team to higher management. If your business would prefer not to hire an in-house mediator, counsellor, financial advisor, and career coach, then outsourcing these needs to a service provider might be a smart choice.
There are hundreds of studies on why employee wellbeing should be centred in discussions about business performance, all as convincing as the last. They all come down to the same basic premise: happy, healthy employees produce better work, improving your business outcomes and the bottom line.
Todd Westwood is general manager of EAP Services. https://www.eapservices.co.nz