World Mental Health Day
Today marks world mental health day. So it feels a really poignant day for me to be launching our podcast into the world.
While it’s called world mental health day, for many of you out there, it’s really feeling like world mental health year.
It’s been seven months since everything that was familiar to us, our sense of routine, our sense of safety and security was taken away, leaving us, feeling confused, feeling scared, feeling anxious and powerless.
So what can you, as an organisational leader, do to start to change the picture and support your employees as we continue to navigate through unchartered territory.
Change is the only constant
2020 has seen us go through the greatest amount of change that this century has ever experienced. It feels to many that change is the only constant at the moment, and that doesn’t bode well for human beings, because humans like familiarity. We like routine. We like to be able to predict the future because all of that makes us feel safe.
And that’s one thing above anything else that we are primed to do is to keep ourselves safe. It’s our innate survival response. And we’ve had every reason to trigger that survival response this year.
Survival of the fittest
“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
You might have heard of this survival response as the freeze fight and flight response. And that is what your survival response is. However, since this pandemic began, we have naturally been activating that, and we certainly saw evidence of that earlier in the year, when we were fed this constant stream of messages from the media, we had people panic buying, you couldn’t get hand sanitizer or cleaning wipes for love nor money!
It was like gold dust. It was like survival of the fittest.
Although interestingly, Charles Darwin actually mentions love 95 times in the descendant of man. And actually only mentioned survival of the fittest twice.
When it comes to the stress response, it’s perfectly normal and natural to activate that survival response in relation to what has been going on. But what we now have is a huge percentage of the population still living in that survival response with stress levels at the highest that they’ve ever been.
The body was designed to handle short bursts of stress, but not designed to live in a stress response. So what we’ve got is an acute response to the pandemic, to people now experiencing chronic stress.
Work Related Stress
The term work-related stress isn’t a new one, but when it comes to work related stress at the moment, it’s impossible to say, what’s the straw that broke the camel’s back?
Is it really work-related or is it just that we can’t cope anymore? We have got employees that are trying to juggle caring responsibilities. We’ve got the pressure of still home schooling for some people, and we’ve got the pressure that parents have been putting on themselves to keep up education and all the work that schools have been sending out while trying to maintain their job and the standards within their job.
You’ve got people who are trying to work in cramped conditions, working with flatmates, working with their partners that maybe don’t have a spare room or a spare office to work from. So they haven’t got workstations.
People that are trying to navigate new systems and technology, and we could be forgiven for thinking that everybody’s up to speed with technology, but actually a lot of the baby boomers have really struggled getting up to speed with technology.
We’ve got employees that are living in isolation, people on furlough, feeling left out and disconnected – that fear of missing out.
Add all of that into the mix and is it work-related stress or is it just a natural response to this whole situation?
Managing mental health in the workplace
And it’s been wonderful to see so many organisations being proactive in getting their managers upskilled in managing mental health.
However managers themselves have been working excessively long hours, even more so than before. Going from teams to teams meetings or zoom to zoom meetings, literally back to back, not even putting time in their diary to have a natural break, grab some water, stretch, move their body.
Their foot’s been on the accelerator knocking out 12 hour days. And it’s simply not sustainable.
Having spent more than half of the year in the stress response, what we as leaders need to do is act because if we don’t act now, then the consequences are really going to be felt.
We can’t expect our employees to have been on this crazy journey and not have their mental health impacted. It’s crucial that we educate our employees to identify the signs of mental health and to give them the tools to help stop surviving and move into a natural state of wellbeing to move into thriving.
We need to teach employees at work how to create internal order when there’s chaos on the outside.
1. Survey your people
You don’t have to do everything all at once. Small actions done consistently will lead to long-term change.
What you don’t want to do is throw jelly against the wall and hope that it sticks.
One of the things that I talk about in the economist white paper that was published yesterday on the future of work and digital wellbeing is about surveying your people, find out what it is that your people need. Take a temperature check of their mental health. Find out what’s worked well for them?. What hasn’t, what have they struggled with?
What systems and processes and infrastructure has been supporting them as they continue to work from home and what needs addressing? What are the immediate bleeding neck concerns and what are the nice to haves?
Using survey functions to be able to gather that data, gather that intelligence can help you to create initiatives and form plans that meet their needs.
Take those plans and communicate to your employees what you’re going to do, and when you’re going to do it. Communication is key. And even sometimes when we’ve got nothing to communicate, even communicating that can be communication! Staying in touch with your employees, telling them what you are doing, when you are doing it, why you are doing it helps to alleviate insecurity and uncertainty also helps to build trust.
3. Invest in online mental health training for managers
Research from The Economist white paper highlighted that sadly less than 40% of people have had a good conversation with their manager about mental health. If there was ever a time to be talking to your people about their mental health and wellbeing, it is now!
The biggest thing that holds managers back from having effective conversations with their teams about mental health is fear.
Fear of getting it wrong, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of making it worse. Therefore some managers may take the path of least resistance and not have that conversation because of fear.
It’s natural for every single one of us to have had our mental health and wellbeing compromised in some way, shape or form.
However, there is still a lot of stigma around mental health. There’s a fear from employees that if they say that they’re struggling, that they might be judged, they might be seen to be weak. They might worry about their job, worry about the consequences. They might think that they’ll get treated differently. There’ll be discriminated against. Therefore we need to start having these conversations to normalise mental health.
4. Be the change you want to see in your people
As leaders in the organisation, be the change that you want to see in your people!. We can’t expect the best from our people if we’re not role modelling that.
Are you working smarter or harder? Are you sending emails at five o’clock in the morning and 10 o’clock at night and at the weekend, are you sending out a message to your team that actually you have got headspace and spare capacity to be able to support somebody?
If employees don’t feel safe to say that they need help. Then any of these ‘it’s time to talk initiatives’ are going to fall on deaf ears. Because in order for us to be vulnerable, we have to feel safe.
So what is it that you, as a leader, as a manager can communicate both verbally and non-verbally that allows your team to feel okay about coming forward and talking about their mental health and wellbeing.
Be the change that you want to see!