Wellbeing: Developing Your Leadership Effectiveness
The pressure on business leaders to be all-things-to-all-people has never been greater. The pandemic has created many challenges for leaders; but supporting employees who are struggling with mental health issues has been one of the most complex. From anxiety over their physical health, to experiencing loneliness whilst working at home, many employees have experienced additional mental strain in the last year.
As we start interacting in person with colleagues, friends and family more than we have done over the last few months, looking out for someone's mental health is just as important as their physical health.
Some recent studies show:
Around one in five adults experienced some form of depression in the first few months of this year, more than twice as many as before the coronavirus pandemic struck. – BBC
69 per cent of US workers said the pandemic has been the most stressful time in their professional lives. According to the same research 88 per cent of workers who reported experiencing moderate to extreme stress, 62 per cent noted losing at least one hour a day in productivity and 32 per cent lost at least two hours a day due to COVID-19-related stress. – US mental health provider Ginger
Thankfully progress has been made in mental health awareness over recent years but there is still plenty of work to be done with many workplace mental health challenges already existing well before the pandemic. As people become more willing to talk about their mental wellbeing, what can leaders do in order to be better prepared to support them?
A healthy workplace
Culture, values and ethics are terms used frequently by businesses around the world. But it’s not just enough to talk the talk you have to walk the walk. Fortunately, the workplace is a controlled space in which good leadership has an opportunity to set a culture that facilitates both staff well-being and optimum organisational performance.
It’s therefore important to be deliberate in creating and maintaining a culture that allows people to bring their full selves to work in an open and transparent way. This can be done through reviewing processes, policies and practices to ensure they are reflecting and driving a positive culture and creating an inclusive environment.
The most effective way to create a supportive culture is to normalise all support mechanisms, such as mental health first aiders, internal communications on mental wellbeing, mental health training, and mental wellbeing services available through employee health schemes. By doing so, we reduce the stigma around mental health that often prohibits people from openly seeking support.
Be authentic and lead by example
Being authentic – whether about mental health or not – is critical in creating an inclusive team environment where direct reports feel comfortable opening up about their own challenges.
We find that employees typically only need a small window to do so. Having leaders open up about themselves is a hugely powerful mechanism, however, leaders also need to be thoughtful regarding when it makes sense to share these aspects of themselves to ensure they are genuine and gracious.
Encouraging employees to talk in an open, supportive and honest environment is a powerful and effective way of building trust. This requires a level of authenticity to allow leaders to be a positive role model. Leaders have a responsibility to aspire to good leadership, which means creating an environment where staff feel motivated, inspired and cared about.
Promoting wellbeing at work
Well-being is both important on an organisational and individual level. Well-being can be influenced greatly by your operational approach and will overlap with many of the day-to-day aspects of running your organisation. Your people after all are your greatest and most valuable asset.
One effective initiative to reduce the stigma and raise awareness around workplace mental health is to train people – including leaders – to be mental health first aiders.
Mental health first aid however is only one part of the potential solution. All leaders should have some form of awareness training, so they can identify mental health challenges, know how to support them and be able to signpost people to further help where needed.
Why soft skills are so important
Businesses have had to evolve and increasingly the way that they interact with employees is now more important than ever. Sometimes overlooked, is the ability to use soft skills in a leadership position.
Soft skills include things like interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and communication are key to building and sustaining a healthy and inclusive culture in any organisation whatever the size or sector. And a healthy and inclusive culture is good for both individuals and the organisation. It can enable leaders and managers to more effectively identify wellbeing issues in the workplace early on, either for individuals or for teams.
Leaders and managers without the right soft skills are frequently the cause of wellbeing issues in the workplace, potentially giving rise to mental health challenges further down the line. Developing soft skills of business leaders and managers can create the supportive relationships that are key to building and sustaining healthy and productive working lives.
Taking care of yourself
At the core of any effective leader is ultimately effective care of yourself. So obvious and yet so often the last thing to consider given the pace of work and the constant focus on others’ needs ahead of your own.
Leaders and managers need to consciously take care of themselves if they are to maintain high performance levels over the longer term without running the risk of burn out. This includes developing resilience in the face of constant challenges which otherwise can take a toll on your physical, emotional and mental health. Taking care of yourself can take many forms from staying hydrated, eating healthy, exercising, relaxation, getting outside and sleep to self awareness and being mindful.
Taking care of yourself helps build personal resilience and the strong foundations for handling the demands and stresses of modern life. From this approach grows self-awareness, self-confidence, better personal organisation, communication and ultimately positive relationships with others.
Mental health awareness and care must start with company culture and its leaders. People will only be open about their challenges when they are ready. If the company culture is right, people will feel comfortable to share, regardless of their position.
Effective leaders develop respectful, caring, trusting relationships with those who report to them. If you’ve got highly effective leadership, you’ve got what you need for a mentally healthy workplace culture.