How Can Managers Best Support Their People’s Mental Health?

ITA Group
ITA Group

manager communicating with employee

Even during uncertain of times, the role of a manager remains the same—support your team members.

But uncertainty fuels anxiety—and we are certainly living in uncertain times. Between the ongoing pandemic, economic concerns, social unrest and natural disasters, we don’t know what will come next. And that’s taking a toll on our mental health, including at work.

Yet, uncertainty can be compared to a virus itself, one that is only adding fuel to the anxious fires burning in many of us. This is because uncertainty triggers the fear centers in our brains.

Much has been written about this short-term mental health impact, and the long-term effects are likely to be even more far-reaching.

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

As we navigate various transitions over the coming months and years, leaders are likely to see employees struggle with anxiety, depression, burnout and more. Those mental health experiences will differ with each individual. So, what can managers and leaders do to support people during this uncertain time?

1. Set the Example for Your People

Don’t just talk the talk. That means you need to model it so that your team members feel they can prioritize self-care and set boundaries. More often than not, managers are so focused on their team’s well-being and getting the work done they forget to take care of themselves.

2. Be Honest & Open About Your Own Mental Health

One silver lining of the pandemic is that it is normalizing mental health challenges. Almost everyone has experienced some level of discomfort. However, unless those in charge share their experiences with these challenges, the stigma currently attached to mental health will continue. When managers describe their challenges, whether mental-health-related or not, it makes them appear relatable. Research has shown that authentic leadership can cultivate trust and improve employee engagement and performance. Being honest about your mental health struggles as a leader opens the door for employees to feel comfortable talking with you about mental health challenges of their own.

3. Be Flexible During Times of Ongoing Change

Expect that the situation, your team’s needs and your own needs will continue to change. Don’t make assumptions about what your direct reports need; they will most likely need different things at different times. Be as generous and realistic as possible. Being accommodating doesn’t necessarily mean lowering your standards. Inclusive flexibility is about proactive communication and norm-setting that helps people design and preserve the boundaries they need to thrive amid the continued uncertainty.

As mentioned earlier, it’s up to you as manager to be the example for your people. Normalize and model flexibility by highlighting how you’ve changed your own behavior. Ask team members to be patient and understanding with one another as they adapt. Trust them and assume the best. They are relying on you and will remember how you treated them during this unprecedented time.

4. Make Time to Connect with Your People

Intentionally checking in with each of your direct reports on a regular basis is more critical than ever. That was important but often underutilized in pre-pandemic days. Now, with so many people working from home, it can be even harder to notice the signs that someone is struggling.

Go beyond a simple, “How’s it going?” and ask specific questions about what supports would be helpful. Wait for the full answer. Really listen, and encourage questions and concerns.

When someone shares that they’re struggling, you won’t always know what to say or do. What’s most important is to really listen to how your team members are truly doing and to be compassionate. They may not want to share much detail, which is completely fine. Knowing that they can is what matters.

5. Be Transparent & Communicate Frequently

Make sure you keep your team informed about any organizational changes or updates. Clarify any modified work hours and norms (whether it be companywide or specific to your department and people). Remove stress where possible by setting expectations about workloads, prioritizing what must get done and acknowledging what can be pushed back if necessary.

Make your team aware of available mental health resources and encourage them to use them. Shame and stigma continue to be felt by many, which prevents many employees from using their mental health benefits to seek treatment—so normalize the use of available services.

What More Can Leaders Do?

Creating a more open and accepting culture, providing clearer information about where to go or whom to ask for support, and training can also go a long way to supporting your employees mental health. But, at the end of the day, simply sharing your own mental health challenges and modeling healthy behavior are two of the most important steps you can take.

For more ideas on how to create meaningful connection in the workplace and support your people, check out ITA Group’s Fostering Human Connections in the Workplace ebook.

Fostering Human Connections in the Workplace