Leaders and managers are facing new challenges as many organizations embark on a return to the workplace. Overall, mental health remains in a fragile state as the pandemic and other societal issues continue to impact our well-being.
The past 18 months have been tough, and it wasn’t just the pandemic that people were dealing with. It was election stress, the economy, distance learning, and racial and societal injustices to name a few. All of these had an impact on individuals and has shined a spotlight on the importance of mental health.
Since March of 2020, we have been constantly adjusting, adapting and pivoting both at work and home. This has expended a lot of physical and mental energy. Now that many organizations are returning to the workplace, they are asking employees to adjust and adapt once again.
When employees are struggling, the quality of their work is going to potentially deteriorate. Their ability to concentrate and focus is going to be impacted. Their ability to act as productive, engaged team members and communicate effectively is going to be impacted. Even their capability of receiving constructive feedback is going to be impacted.
As changes in the workplace continue, leaders will need to build better relationships with their employees and help them feel supported. Leaders and managers will need to have the ability and willingness to engage in conversations, recognize when employees are struggling and offer the right support.
Let’s explore several key considerations for leaders and managers that will help them support their people in the Covid Era workplace.
The Importance of Empathy
Empathy is an essential leadership skill used to build trust and relationships within the organization and create a culture of resilience. Unfortunately, empathy is still often associated in the business world as a sign of weakness. Empathy allows leaders and managers to not only build relationships with their people but to uncover what drives them and what impacts them.
Empathy puts people as a priority. It’s focusing on developing your team members, coaching them, focusing on their ability to grow their well-being and helping them see a long-term plan. Without that, employees are going to lose that sense of purpose, meaning, and belonging. Leaders can help employees see past the weeds and guide them through difficult times and times of change.
Listening is also a key component to leading with empathy. It’s going into a conversation and giving 100 percent focus on the individual. These conversations build trust with employees and can help leaders understand the “why” behind what’s driving poor performance or disengagement. When leaders listen, they can offer guidance to the right resources for people, especially those invested in by the organization.
Leaders must also be willing to show their vulnerabilities and share their personal stories. Engaging employees with a personal story will help them recognize that leaders and managers are human too and that they are going through the same struggles.
When leaders start thinking about empathy as a critical leadership skill to build trust and relationships, that is when organizations start to see greater productivity. Employees will be more willing to collaborate with their managers and, in turn, managers will have the ability to prevent and mitigate risk.
Creating a Culture of Resilience
Once leaders and managers establish trusting relationships with their people, organizations can then create a culture of resilience. A culture of resilience is more preventative and proactive, not just reactive.
Creating a culture of resilience requires us to start thinking about mental health differently. The mere use of the term “mental health” still most often comes with a negative connotation – that if we are discussing mental health, it must be because there is a problem.
If we start to shift our perspective and think about mental health more as we think about our physical health, we start to see that mental health falls on a continuum. When people have good physical health, we consider them healthy. On the opposite side of the physical health continuum are people with injuries or illnesses.
The same concept applies to our mental health. We will always have our mental health. There is good mental health where people are thriving, and poor mental health where people are struggling or in crisis.
The Mental Health Continuum
When leaders and managers understand the mental health continuum, they have an opportunity to be empowered to help their people focus on their well-being. Talking about mental health daily will change organizational culture to one where it’s OK to not be OK.
Role Modeling Self-Care
Now that we are thinking about mental health differently, we also need to think about how we talk about self-care. There has long been a perception that self-care is selfish or self-indulgent.
In a time when self-care should take center stage, many individuals feel like they can’t possibly think about it because they have too much to do. If we think like this, self-care will never be a priority.
Living in a time of uncertainty requires us to make constant adjustments to our daily lives, and that takes a lot of energy. If we don’t take the time to replenish that energy, it will be difficult for many to make further adjustments in the future, including adapting to the new workplace.
Leaders must challenge themselves to make self-care a priority so they can appropriately model it for their employees. Self-care doesn’t need to be planned or take up a large chunk of time. To build a good self-care routine, we need to start thinking about it in terms of micro strategy.
Incorporating small self-care habits into your daily routine can have a huge impact on your mental health, overall well-being and energy levels. It can be easy as drinking a glass of water, building movement into your day, taking a screen break, or doing some deep breathing.
The reason these habits are so impactful is that they are replenishing our system. They’re giving our body the nutrients it needs, whether it’s drinking water, movement, or Vitamin D from the Sun. Replenishing our system with the energy it needs helps us adapt to our world today.
Want to dig deeper? Check out this presentation from the 2021 Maryland Workplace Health & Wellness Symposium.