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How managers can identify and support team members struggling with their mental health

By November 24, 2020 May 18th, 2021 No Comments

Non-profit organisation, Mind Share Partners, conducted a study of global employees in partnership with Qualtrics and SAP. They discovered that the mental health of almost 42% of respondents had declined since the pandemic began. Given all that’s happened between then and now, partway through our second national lockdown, the figure has likely increased.

Prior to the pandemic, many companies had increased their focus on workplace mental health. Those efforts are even more imperative today.

Harvard Business Review identified that leaders are likely to see employees struggle with anxiety, depression, burnout, trauma, and PTSD. Those mental health experiences will differ according to race, economic opportunity, citizenship status, job type, parenting and caregiving responsibilities, and many other variables. So, what can managers and leaders do to identify people who are struggling and offer support?

In ‘8 ways managers can help support employees mental health’, Harvard Business Review points to the following behaviours and strategies that Managers can demonstrate and execute to support their teams:

  • Be vulnerable. Normalising mental health struggles and talking about your own feelings opens the door for others to do the same. Home working with interruptions from kids, animals, delivery drivers, and people having access to your home environment has enabled us to accept that we are all human. When managers describe their challenges, whether mental-health-related or not, it makes them appear human, relatable, and brave. Research has shown that authentic leadership can cultivate trust and improve employee engagement and performance.
  • Model healthy behaviours. If you set boundaries and prioritise your own self-care, you are giving permission to your team members to do the same. Share your holiday plans, your lunch hour walks, the breaks you take during the day, blocking out calendar time for thinking.
  • Build a culture of connection through regularly checking in with each of your direct reports. And remember to ask them how they are doing and what support they need. HBR produced a study with Qualtrics and SAP that found nearly 40% of global employees said no one at their company had asked them if they were doing ok – and those respondents were 38% more likely than others to say their mental health had declined since the outbreak.
  • Offer flexibility and be inclusive: Everyone’s needs over this period will change – including your own. Help people to preserve the boundaries that are important to them and customise the help they need. Some may have challenges with childcare, others will be visibly working every hour now that there is no physical break between the office and the home. Look out for the signs and then make it clear that you are prepared to be flexible and will help them to resolve any issues.
  • Over communicate. During this period, all bets are off as regards over communication. Keep your team informed about organisational changes and updates, clarify any changes to work patterns, set workload expectations, make sure people are aware of support resources available.

However, spotting a team member is struggling with their mental health is difficult at the best of times, and even more so now that teams are working remotely. Mental health problems aren’t always readily apparent. There are many signs and symptoms that can manifest before it is clear that someone is struggling. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Looking tired and lacking motivation
  • Making uncharacteristic mistakes
  • Changes in work output
  • Outbursts of emotion
  • Poor timekeeping
  • Absences from work
  • Isolating themselves from others
  • Appearing distracted and procrastinating more
  • Not taking care of their appearance

It is likely that an employee who is struggling may not wish to open up to their manager when they are feeling low. This can cause misunderstanding as they appear to become increasing insular. That’s why it is so important for managers to lead authentically and openly, as human beings with flaws. Managers may need to proactively approach their employee in a positive and supportive manner. Escalating to HR should only be considered once you have tried a direct approach.

Here are some considerations when instigating this type of conversation:

  1. Ask simple, non-judgmental questions
  2. Listen – really listen, to their responses. Try not to interrupt. Embrace silences as it gives people time to consider.
  3. Don’t make assumptions about their symptoms. Reassure them that this conversation is completely confidential
  4. Let them know you are here for them – on an ongoing basis
  5. Develop an action plan

Here are some of the things you could consider when developing an action plan to support your employee in their workplace:

  • Changes to how they perform their role
    • Can they work flexibly?
    • Can you alter their workspace?
    • Can you give more leeway around absence?
    • Can you allow short notice leave for therapy sessions etc.?
  • Changes to their role
    • Can you reallocate any pain-point tasks?
    • Should they be redeployed to a role that suits them better?
    • Can you offer training?
  • Additional support
    • Is there the option to reduce their working hours?
    • Can you offer a mentor or buddy?
    • If they are office based can you designate a safe space?
    • Can you schedule opportunities to support good mental health e.g. yoga in lunch hours, mindfulness sessions etc?