What does World Mental Health Day mean for leaders?

As World Mental Health Day approaches, it’s my firm belief that leaders need to pay attention to their team’s mental health and take active steps to preventing burnout. Here’s how they can do it.

October 9, 2020 4 mins read

10th October is World Mental Health Day. While mental health is especially important now more than ever, misconceptions still exist about it. For some, it denotes an illness that needs ‘fixing’. Some employers even believe that employee mental health is not their responsibility. Yet, the truth is that having healthy discussions about employee wellbeing and workplace stress can help employees avoid burnout and overwork. Empathetic leaders can persuade employees to come forward and share their stories about what they are going through, improving the employee experience for everyone.

Mental health is a growing concern

A recent survey conducted by Robert Half polled over 1,500 executives across the EU and UK. It found 37% of employers are aware that their employees are managing heavy workloads and are on the brink of burnout, because of the pandemic. In response, 42% of companies surveyed started offering mental health resources and 32% general wellness programs, to assist their employees.

While some executives are more hopeful about the improving global economy, the uncertainty over second waves and quarantines have suppressed morale. Whether it’s because temporary layoffs are being made permanent or the ongoing ambiguity surrounding COVID-19, everyone is overworked, and our work-life balance has been eroded. 

But being aware of a problem and merely allocating resources often isn’t enough. It takes concerted support and effort to manage people’s workloads to improve mental health and avoid burnout. 

The reality is that your best people are the most susceptible to burnout. For an employee perspective, Robert Half also polled more than 1,000 working professionals (spanning the UK, France, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, UAE, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany) during May to June 2020. They found 37% were working longer hours than pre-COVID. Tellingly, only 10% felt the pandemic has led to closer relationships with colleagues. What’s more, even fewer (8%) respondents indicated that they feel closer to their manager because of COVID-19. 

These numbers match up with the data from my clients — I’ve seen drops in work/life balance, team relationships and friendships at work. In today’s remote and virtual world, relationships are undoubtedly harder to maintain. Many companies are operating in the dark, trying to figure out how best to fix these problems. My clients have one advantage, though. Through Friday Pulse, they have their own internal data that enables them to respond to these challenges in real-time. This is one of the reasons that most of our clients are close to being back to their pre-COVID happiness levels. As one client recently commented, “Friday Pulse is the one tool that has really made a difference, helping to keep our workplace culture and the soft side of running a team front-and-centre.”

Protect your best people

While offering employee wellbeing programs or counselling are helpful, most people under pressure don’t have the time to commit to that kind of self-care. In the spirit of World Mental Health Day, I have some suggestions on what you can do to protect your best people from burnout.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

The simplest, most effective way to reduce burnout is to communicate regularly with your team. Speak to them two to three times more often than you would in the office. I’ve talked about the importance of having these weekly check-ins in small groups, or one-on-one when possible, and I want to reemphasize how important they are. When feasible, use video calls. It’s incredibly therapeutic for team members to see each other talking, smiling and laughing when so many of us are isolated.

We designed the Friday Pulse people platform as a tool to facilitate these conversations. It can help teams celebrate successes, express concerns and ensure that work is equitably distributed in a way that everyone will have a better experience of work.

These 15-minute meetings have a simple purpose: to see how your people are feeling each week. Listen carefully to how they are coping. They may have concerns that aren’t work-related that are adding to their stress.

Balance workloads

Work/life imbalances often reflect increased stress — and even burnout. 

A September 2020 Robert Half survey asked burned-out employees what they think caused their condition:

  • 30% of respondents cited heavier workloads
  • 19% cited the inability to separate work and personal life when working remotely
  • 14% cited fewer resources and smaller budgets.

This is recognized by senior managers, with 47% citing heavy workloads of team members as their top concern. Overwork is likely a result of COVID staff cuts. Still, even if you are not in a position to hire additional workers at this point, you can take some of the pressure off by bringing in skilled, temporary professionals to help.  

You can give your team more flexibility by suggesting ‘windowed working’ or breaking the workday into smaller units of time. Most of these units are likely to be taken during normal working hours, but some can occur before or after them depending on an employee’s personal preference.

Most important of all, even at a time when vacation travel is limited, encourage staff to take the time off they’ve earned. The act of unplugging and taking it easy for a bit is the ultimate remedy for stress and burnout.

Supplement your wellness programs

Your involvement is a critical component in helping your people reap the benefits of your wellness programs. Your understanding and empathy will give your people the chance to take part and establish positive mental health habits that will save them from burnout.

Ultimately your efforts to create a workplace conducive to mental wellbeing will benefit your employees, and also your business — through COVID and beyond.

Friday Pulse is here to help

Our Friday Pulse people platform is designed to help team leaders learn how their people feel at work. This is a crucial first step in stopping burnout. That’s why we’re continuing to offer companies and teams (50 – 1,000 employees) free access to our people platform for 12 weeks. To find out more about how we can help, please reach out to us today.