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What does World Mental Health Day mean for leaders?

As World Mental Health Day approaches, it’s our belief that leaders need to pay attention to their team’s mental health and take active steps to preventing burnout.

10th October is World Mental Health Day. Unfortunately, while COVID-19 has changed views on mental health, a stigma lingers around the topic — it denotes illness, and no one wants to be a problem that needs ‘fixing’. Employers, who do not recognize how vital employee wellbeing is, often believe that mental health is not their responsibility.

Yet, the truth is that managers who promote healthy discussions around employee wellbeing and workplace stresses can help employees avoid burnout. By being empathetic, managers can persuade employees to come forward and share their stories about what they’re going through. 

Growing concern for mental health

A recent Robert Half survey of 1,500 executives across the EU and UK found 37% of employers are aware that their employees are managing heavy workloads and are on the brink of burnout, as a result of the pandemic. In response, 42% of companies surveyed have started offering mental health resources and 32% general wellness programs to assist their employees.

While some executives are more hopeful about improving global economic conditions, the uncertainty over second waves and quarantines have suppressed morale. Whether it’s because temporary layoffs were made permanent or the ongoing ambiguity surrounding COVID-19, everyone is overworked and our work-life balance has been eroded. 

But being aware of a problem and merely allocating resources often isn’t enough. It takes concerted support and effort to manage people’s workloads to improve mental health and avoid burnout.  

The reality is that your best people are the most susceptible to burnout. For an employee perspective, Robert Half also polled more than 1,000 working professionals (spanning the UK, France, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, UAE, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany) during May to June 2020. They found 37% were working longer hours than pre-COVID. Tellingly, only 10% felt the pandemic has led to closer relationships with colleagues. What’s more, even fewer (8%) respondents indicated that they feel closer to their manager because of COVID-19. 

These findings align with data from our clients — we’ve seen drops in work-life balance, team relationships and friendships at work. In today’s remote and virtual world, relationships are undoubtedly harder to maintain. Many companies are operating in the dark, trying to figure out how best to fix these problems. 

Our clients have one advantage, though. Through Friday Pulse, they have their own internal data that enables them to respond to these challenges in real-time. This is one of the reasons that most of our clients are close to being back to their pre-COVID happiness levels. As one client recently commented, “Friday Pulse is the one tool that has really made a difference, helping to keep our workplace culture and the soft side of running a team front-and-centre.”

How do you protect your best people? 

While having employee wellbeing programs such as meditation courses or counselling are helpful, most people under pressure don’t have the time to commit to self-care. In the spirit of World Mental Health Day, we’ve prepared some suggestions on how you can protect your best people from burnout. 

Communicate 2-3 times more often

The most effective way to reduce burnout is to communicate regularly with your team. Speak to your team members 2-3 times more often than you would in the office. A best practice is to make these conversations in small groups or one-on-one when possible. Weekly 15-minute group check-in calls, separate from scheduled business meetings, are something that your team can look forward to. 

These meetings have a purpose: to check in with employees and see how they are feeling each week. Listen carefully to get a sense of how they’re coping. They may have concerns that aren’t work-related that are adding to their stress levels. 

When possible, use video calls. It’s surprisingly therapeutic for team members to see each other talking, smiling and laughing when so many of us are isolated. Friday Pulse is a tool that helps teams celebrate successes, express concerns and, ultimately, ensure that work is equitably distributed. 

Balance workloads

Work-life imbalances often reflect increased stress — and even burnout.

A September 2020 Robert Half survey asked burned-out employees what they thought caused their condition:

  • 30% of respondents cited heavier workloads
  • 19% cited the inability to separate work and personal life when working remotely 
  • 14% cited fewer resources and smaller budgets. 

This is recognized by senior managers, with 47% citing heavy workloads of team members as their top concern.Overwork is likely a result of COVID staff cuts. Still, even if you are not in a position to hire additional workers at this point, you can take some of the pressure off by bringing in skilled, temporary professionals to help.  

Give your team more flexibility by suggesting ‘windowed working’ — breaking down the workday into smaller units of time. Most of these units are likely to be taken during normal working hours but some can occur before or after, depending on an employee’s personal preference. 

Most important of all, even at a time when vacation travel is limited, encourage staff to take the time off they’ve earned. The act of unplugging and taking a break is the ultimate remedy for stress and burnout. 

Supplement your wellness programs

Your involvement needs to serve as a supplement to the wellness programs your company offers. Your understanding and empathy will give your people the chance to take part and establish positive mental health habits that will help save them from burnout. Ultimately, your efforts to create a workplace conducive to mental wellbeing will benefit your employees and your business — through COVID-19 and beyond. 

Friday Pulse is here to help

Our people platform is designed to help team leaders learn how their people feel at work. This is a crucial first step in stopping burnout. That’s why we’re continuing to offer companies and teams (50 – 1,000 employees) free access to our people platform for 12 weeks. To find out more about how we can help, please reach out to us today.