How leaders can support employees’ mental health and wellbeing

2020 hasn’t been what anyone has expected it to be, and for many people it has brought unprecedented and significant challenges to their personal and professional lives. The compounding effects of multiple stressors – e.g. ongoing concerns about health risks for oneself and loved ones, uncertain economic prospects, inflated workloads and blurred boundaries when working from home, heavily disrupted processes and reduced personal freedom – have led to an acute impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of many Australians.

When we are stressed, under pressure and anxious, our creativity, decision-making ability and focus suffers, which has a direct impact on our productivity and effectiveness. This is why our mental health, wellbeing and levels of resilience – as individuals and in teams – can literally affect every business metric, including those related to financial and reputational measures, as well as internal benchmarks such as employee engagement and turnover rates.

If you are managing others, or provide formal or informal leadership to people in your workplace, what can you do to support staff, team members and colleagues through tough times? Below are some suggestions that may increase wellbeing among your employees:

  • Role model self-care. Just saying that you support mental health and positive behaviour is not enough. You need to visibly walk the walk, too.  Your team members won’t only listen to what you say, they will also closely watch what you do. If these two things do not match, chances are that your behaviour leaves a bigger impact than your words. Share that you are going for a run in the middle of the day, that you won’t be available for a few hours due to family obligations, or that you are planning to completely unplug on the weekend and won’t be checking (or sending!) work-related emails unless there is an emergency. If possible, model flexible practices such as adapting your work hours to better fit in with personal needs, and take annual leave on a regular basis so that others can see that it is ok to do so.
  • Lean into compassionate leadership. To inspire, motivate and develop others, leaders need high levels of empathy. Being empathic allows us to understand the emotional state, needs and concerns of others, and to (momentarily) take their perspective on a situation or idea so that we can better relate to their experience.  Compassion builds on this skill further by also adding the motivation to connect with and help the other person. Compassionate leaders take positive and supportive action, focus on the person and not the process, and engage in open dialogue. This will instil trust in others – the critical element in developing psychological safe spaces, high engagement and mentally healthy workplaces. 
  • Check in frequently. Checking in is very different to checking on people. Ask your team members how they are going, if they need anything from you, and what obstacles they are currently facing – and don’t forget to celebrate their small (or bigger) wins. Getting to know your people, their backgrounds and behavioural expressions will also enable you to quickly spot when things are changing, e.g. a turn of attitude, sudden mood swings, or drops in energy or performance levels. If you notice a change that worries you, you can then immediately follow up with a meaningful conversation.  
  • Don’t make assumptions about what others need. Instead,listen to what they have to say. This sounds self-evident, but as human beings we all have a tendency to jump to conclusions about a situation, make quick judgements about other peoples’ actions, and rely on generalisations. Really listening and giving someone the gift of your full attention will enable you to deepen your understanding, broaden your perspective and make lasting connections with others. 
  • Remember that everyone’s resilience levels are different. If you are a very resilient person, bestowed with a naturally stable mood and low anxiety levels, this is something to be grateful for. Maybe you have had confidence-boosting experiences in your life that have helped you to remain optimistic and calm in the face of adversity, maybe you have a genetic advantage, maybe you have had the opportunity to learn and strengthen positive self-management skills that others have not. Use your empathy skills to see and meet people where they are at, then try to see the world from their point of view. This is your starting point for identifying and providing appropriate and meaningful support strategies for each person in your care.

If you would like to learn more, don’t hesitate to reach out to the QLS Solicitor Support service on ethics@qls.com.au or p. 3842 5843 to speak to someone in a judgement-free and supportive environment.



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