In the past, we used to only worry about physical health and safety. Now, thankfully, we’re moving towards a time when people are starting to understand that good mental health is also important.
Every workplace on the planet involves people. And when you put people together in one place, the mix of personalities, money, priorities and pressure can start to cause tension.
In addition, remote working is now more convenient than ever. But this brings with it additional challenges, as home and work life start to merge into one. As work starts to be completed at home, people tend to work longer hours and respond to work requests after they normally would have left for the day.
Many older industries are also challenged by new companies entering the fray, disrupting the marketplace. As the pressure mounts, people are asked to do more, with less.
These are instances when stress, anxiety, worry, fear, depression and lack of confidence start to become normal.
How Leaders Influence Mental Health in the Workplace
Good mental health is important for everyone. However, leaders play an important role in safeguarding the mental health of people in the workplace.
Leaders control the flow of work and set the goals and expectations that others need to live up to.
Unrealistic expectations, excessive workloads and tight deadlines increase stress and force people to work longer, often for no reward. In other words, leaders can set the tone for good mental health in the workplace.
Why Leaders Need to Safeguard Their Own Mental Health
It’s one thing for leaders to protect the mental health of others. But what about their own mental health? Without good mental health, leaders can start to negatively impact the people around them.
1. Leaders Need Good Mental Health to Show Empathy
When you’re stuck in the mud, stressed and fearful, it’s hard to feel empathy for others. But empathy is the edge that makes thoughtful leaders great.
When you genuinely care about your team and are able to understand other perspectives, you build rapport, trust and credibility.
When you are struggling at work, you’ll be preoccupied trying to fix your own problems than focus on others. Then, you run the risk of being an absent, unavailable leader.
To learn more about the importance of empathy in leadership, read this post: 4 Ways Leaders Can Build Empathy in the Workplace (and Why It Matters).
2. Leaders Need Good Mental Health to Be Perceptive
Being perceptive is one of the most important qualities of being a leader. Perceptive leaders notice body language, attitudes and can respond to situations and adapt their approach.
When my mental health is under attack, I tend to become preoccupied with my own thoughts and problems, and I generally become less observant. Even if I do notice something, I may ignore it because my care factor just isn’t there.
3. Leaders Need Good Mental Health to Keep Showing Up
When you’re struggling with stress, anxiety or depression, there is a good chance you might need to take some time to feel better.
The problem with that is you’re away from your team and unable to support them. However, it would be even worse if you stayed at work, because you’d just be reinforcing the situation with a downward spiral.
How You Can Look After Your Own Mental Health
Thankfully these days, there are many mental health resources available. Here are just a few:
Obviously – if you are struggling with mental health issues, you should seek professional help (I am not any kind of Doctor or medical practitioner).
However, from my own experiences of stress, anxiety, fear and worry, here are a few suggestions that have helped me to cope in the workplace.
1. Don’t Go It Alone
If you are in a workplace where you feel like you’re on your own, even when people are around you, you’ll feel vulnerable. Make time and effort to build relationships with your colleagues and your team.
What is especially helpful is having a friendly shoulder to lean on who is at the same level in the organisation. You might not be able to lean on your team members in quite the same way, but having a trusted colleague can help you navigate some of the challenges.
2. Take Time Out Every Day
Whatever you do, don’t stay at your desk all day. Get out of the office, or at least your general work environment. Find some sunshine, fresh air and walk around.
Make yourself a priority. Because you might find that nobody else will.
Sometimes, the release I feel when I leave the building even for a few minutes can be liberating!
If you “are too busy to leave”, then it’s time to think about how you manage your time.
Even if you really are too busy, you need to ask yourself the question: “Can I keep working like this?”.
Tip: If you feel overwhelmed and can never get to the end of your to-do list, Thoughtful Leader can help. Check out the Time Management Toolkit, with tools and techniques to help you free your time and be a more effective leader. You and your team deserve better, so try the toolkit today.
Otherwise, read about how to stop wasting time here: How Leaders Can Stop Wasting Time at Work.
3. Make Exercise a Part of Your Routine
It is well documented that exercise is beneficial for your mental health. There are plenty of options out there to try, which don’t all involve running.
For me, exercise is a little like meditation. I look forward to it as a way to switch off my brain from the challenges of work and life.
If you struggle to find the time, see if you can incorporate walking into your daily commute so it becomes a part of your routine.
4. Set Yourself Up So You Aren’t Afraid to Leave
Leadership is not all about what happens at work. Your personal situation plays a big part.
Because how you live, how much money you have and how employable you feel has a direct impact on your ability to say “Screw you” (or you can be more polite if you wish) and leave your workplace.
If you can set yourself up so that you have some money to fall back on, a mortgage that is sustainable (or no mortgage at all, lucky you) and a reasonable lifestyle, you won’t be desperate to cling onto your job.
I’ve seen managers having a terrible time, hanging onto their job for grim death because they need the money. So they soak up stress and fear and keep coming back for more because they feel they can’t leave.
To set yourself up for success:
- Keep your skills up to date.
- Make sure you have the qualifications you need, even if you feel like you’re doing fine right now.
- Keep your network strong so if you need a new job, you may just have a connection to help you.
You want to do these things when times are good – because it’s often too late when times are bad.
5. Don’t Pretend Everything Is OK
Nothing will make you feel more lonely than trying to hide your challenges. If your organisation has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), reach out and use it.
Although in the past, mental health challenges weren’t well respected, the visibility and status of these issues are much more prominent now.
Where you have a supportive manager, you might consider having a conversation about your challenges to sort out a plan to help you.
In instances where your boss is part of the cause of your stress and mental health challenges, your Human Resources (HR) department might be a good first step, as they often know of resources that can help.
Continuing to hide your problems and push ahead can result in long-term issues. Remember that resilience does not mean putting up with terrible circumstances, it also means knowing when you have had enough.
You can read more about the danger of resilience here: Why Being Resilient Will Kill You.
Mental health is no joke, and it’s critical for leaders to stay healthy. Not just for your team, but for your own wellbeing.
Do you have any advice to safeguard your mental health? Or some stories of challenges you faced? Let me know in the comments below.