We've Opened Pandora's Box on Mental Health in the Workplace, Now What?
Updated: Dec 13, 2021
We Can't Just Tell People to Turn Their Feelings Off.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, businesses all over the world made a major shift. There was a noteworthy change to encourage open discussion of mental health and self-care in the workplace. While some organizations had already adopted wellness models, the demand and necessity reached a critical level.
After what may feel like an eternity in the COVID-19 pandemic full of open sharing, we can’t just tell our teams to put their feelings and mental health back in a box. Leaders made numerous adjustments and tried new, and sometimes uncomfortable, strategies in the hopes of holding the business and their team together. Now that empathy and vulnerability are here, leaders are asking what to do next.
What Do We Want?
We want our teams to be healthy and take care of themselves, but we have a specific role as a leader. As the dust settles – fingers crossed – you may find that your team members are now super comfortable discussing their challenges with you, and they aren’t just talking about work. They are opening up to you about personal concerns that ultimately bleed into their work energy or lead to preoccupation and cause distraction. They are freely sharing with you some of their daily struggles that you had no clue about, and may not at all feel equipped to handle.
Across the world, we have a greater understanding of the importance and value of mental health in the workplace, but it is new to a lot of industries. Many leaders feel in over their heads and may be unsure how to proceed. Let’s implement some practical strategies to get started on immediate next steps and ideas for how to create long-term stability and establish a healthy prevention-based foundation.
What Do We Do Now?
Yes, we want to feel our feelings and allow space for others to do the same. Or, sometimes that’s not what we want, but it’s good for us in the long run so we take a healthy risk. What we don’t want is for feelings to become overwhelming and overtake us or our team members. That’s what happens when we ignore feelings and it’s not pretty.
While feelings can seem to make things murky and feel different from other work challenges, in some ways, consider it a task. When you approach feelings from a problem-solving lens, they are a lot easier and less scary to tackle. Think about the steps you would take with any other concern.
State the Obvious. Where you are right now with your team is a transition. With any major transition and shift, there’s an intentional reset. A large group conversation to set the stage, tone, and direction, and name the changes that are happening or need to happen is often a great start for preparing your team.
Acknowledge their Concerns. If your team members are sharing, it’s often because they feel you are safe. You may be the only person they have opened up to. Let them know you hear them and want to support.
Roles and Expectations. There is a fine line between being supportive and taking on responsibility. As a leader, you can expect yourself to be supportive of your team. You don’t have to expect yourself to guide them through their non-work-related challenges.
Boundaries and Limits. Identify what you can and cannot do. You may be able to incorporate self-care into the workplace through leading by example, trainings, and allowing space. You may also be able to recommend a team member connect with HR regarding Employment Assistant Program (EAP) benefits or check with their insurance about mental health providers.
Be Present. Your goal is to be with your team members. Presence is a powerful connection, relationship strengthening, and prevention tool. When we are present with our teams, we can see more clearly what is happening and identify the needs.
What is Presence Leadership? Presence leadership makes room for people in the work we do. It’s a prevention strategy, morale booster, and creates a more positive and collaborative work environment. Presence leadership deepens the connectivity between leaders and their teams and strengthens team relationships by making time for and normalizing self-care.
In business, I have learned that culture is one of the most important parts of a successful, productive, and enjoyable organization. Contrary to what we may have been taught, when we nurture people, the work will still get done. While previous generations of employees had a mentality of working a lifetime for one employer, that mindset has shifted. Our people know they have options and will not hesitate to get their needs met somewhere else. While the grass may not actually be greener on the other side, when folks are scrambling to take better care of themselves, they become willing to take the risk. Do what you can to position yourself as their best option.
Call to Presence There is always a growth edge as a leader and presence it often ignored but at the top of the list. Presence often takes intentionality, particularly for high achievers and there are strategies to get you there. You and your team need presence.
Questions to consider…
What does your team currently need from leadership?
What immediate next step can you take towards presence with your team?
What barriers do you see, perceive, or anticipate with presence leadership?
Are you ready to take a deeper dive into presence leadership?
Licensed Psychologist, Executive Coach, Speaker
Dr. Leatrice positions organizations to maximize productivity, master collaboration and teamwork,
and retain high achievers.
“Great Things Happen When You’re Present”
© 2021, Dr. Leatrice R. Brooks, The Power in Presence