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4 Ways Leaders at All Levels Can Support Employee Mental Health

Mental health challenges don’t discriminate based on seniority level, and there certainly has been no shortage of stressors lately.

Kelly-Greenwood-Mind-Share-Partners

Kelly Greenwood

Founder and CEO, Mind Share Partners

I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who could honestly say that their mental health hasn’t been negatively affected over the last 18 months. The lines between the personal and professional continue to blur, making it impossible to compartmentalize. As leaders — from the CEO to an individual contributor who mentors a junior team member — we all have a part to play in supporting each other.  

In a mentally healthy workplace, leaders at all levels should understand, visibly and proactively support, and normalize mental health. Here are a few actions that we recommend at Mind Share Partners, a national nonprofit that’s changing the culture of workplace mental health through public awareness, professional communities, and strategic training and advising to leading companies:

1. Share your story

Opening up about your own challenges, whether explicitly mental health related or not, gives employees permission to do the same. This is one of the most powerful things that all leaders can do. It normalizes that ups and downs are part of the human experience. Even a small amount of vulnerability can open the door for employees to feel comfortable reaching out and seeking help when they need it.

2. Model mentally healthy behaviors

Employees look to their leaders to gauge what is truly permissible at work. Even if a company provides unlimited paid time off, if a manager never takes vacation, it’s unlikely that her direct reports will feel like they can take one, either. Leaders at all levels can lead through their actions by marking activities that are supportive of their mental health on their calendars or intentionally talking about them. These can include breaks during the workday for exercise, meditation, or therapy appointments. Leaders can hold “no meeting” days, set hours for focused work, and sign off during non-work hours and vacations. As a leader, prioritizing self-care and boundaries will signal to employees that they can do the same.

3. Educate yourself and your teams

At a minimum, it’s critical for leaders to make everyone aware of the mental health benefits and other resources available at their organization. These supports cannot be over communicated. Ideally, all employees should also be trained on what mental health is and isn’t, how it shows up at work, how to talk about it, and how to be an ally to others. This is a chance to manage culture, not crises. A proactive, preventive approach with a management lens works best.

4. Promote flexibility

Everyone has navigated their own unique set of challenges over the last 18 months, from managing their kids’ virtual school to living alone. Even when the pandemic ends, employees will continue to have varying needs. It’s essential for leaders to have conversations with each of their direct reports to understand their specific preferences and working styles and then create new team norms. This is true inclusion and will enable employees to perform at their best. Needs will shift over time, so checking in regularly will set everyone up for success and sustainability.

As we continue to reimagine workplaces and work itself, let’s prioritize mental health. Leaders of all kinds have a critical role to play.

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