Managers Must Improve Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

BY C. Lee Smith
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The stress of the past few years, ranging from the pandemic and associated job losses to the increasingly politicized climate in the U.S., is taking a toll. Employees aren’t able to easily put these issues aside when they come to work. As a result, productivity is suffering. This trend requires managers and corporate leaders to stay focused on mental health awareness in the workplace.

Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

Carter Cast, a clinical professor of strategy at the Kellogg School of Management, has some tips for managers who might not be paying attention to stress issues. One detail today’s managers may be missing is their tendency to overload employees with tasks that contribute to additional stress. If you’re in the habit of making assignments without asking how an employee is doing, it’s time to stop.

Team members will feel more in control of their schedules if you take the time to meet individually with them and discuss their workloads and priorities. Ask them which projects are creating feelings of anxiety and stress. You can help reduce employee stress by allowing them to extend deadlines on noncritical projects. 

Keep in mind that people respond in unique ways to high workloads. Some employees thrive on the adrenaline that comes with tight deadlines. Other don’t. Study the results of their psychometric assessments to understand the best way to both help and motivate your teams.

Another source of aggravation we uncovered in our survey of sales professionals is time wasted in meetings. Over one-​third of these professionals said inefficient meetings were a top weakness of their current manager. This should be an easy problem for you to fix.

How often are you holding staff meetings? Are they place holders or are you and your team accomplishing something?

Change Staff Meetings to Improve Team Spirit

One way to get more out of staff meetings is to use these events to build connections between team members. The U.S. Surgeon General recently announced that “poor connection can be devastating.” U.S. adults who don’t have strong social connections with friends and family members suffer physical and mental health problems. He encouraged a “culture of connections,” specifically positive ones. For many U.S. adults, the workplace has become the center of where they make connections as so many other social institutions have faded in the past few decades. Many of us no longer spend time attending church or participating in group activities such as team bowling. 

Savvy managers may want to adjust the purpose of some meetings and use them as a way to help employees forge stronger bonds. Whether it’s word games or pairing employees to encourage them to quickly solve problems, team members learn more about each other in these exercises. The more they learn, the more engaged they become, with each other and the workplace. Taking these actions shows your intention as a manager to do something about mental health awareness in the workplace.

Managers and Their Impact on Mental Health

According to 69% of people, their managers had the greatest impact on their mental health, on par with the impact of their partner,” reports Tracy Brower. New managers may not realize just how much team members study you and your behavior. The nonverbal cues you send out are as important as what you say.

You may not mean to show frustration when you slam a report on the conference room table, but your employees will pick up on that action. Your more sensitive employees may fear they’ve done something to upset you, and angry actions on your part will set their stress meter spinning. Keep your frustration levels in check.

If you find that’s not possible, it may be because you’re suffering from stress. High levels of stress should be a warning sign about mental health awareness in the workplace. As Tracy Brower points out, a significant percentage of managers suffer from stress, and they admit some of the stress is self-induced.

You can set an example for your employees. First, don’t be shy about admitting that you’re feeling stressed and that you plan to take action. Next, demonstrate the action you’re taking by refusing to accept additional work that you can’t handle or by negotiating a later deadline for delivery of a project. When you show it’s okay to actively manage stress in the workplace, your employees will be bolder about trying to protect their mental health as well.

Photo by Vie Studio on Pexels.