Physical health has been at the forefront of management programs and labor laws for quite some time. Recently, many individuals in the workforce have been prioritizing their mental health and also choosing to resign from their jobs, especially during the time of the COVID-19 Pandemic. This occurred so frequently that University College London’s Professor Anthony Klotz termed this phenomenon as “The Great Resignation.”
The Great Resignation is generally agreed to have started in early 2021, and as of November 2022 is still ongoing. The prioritization of mental health and consequent behaviors have also left managers in unique quandaries. Employees are more likely to resign, take more time off, schedule for more flexibility, or look for a new job. This primarily affects the age groups between 20 to 45, according to the Harvard Business Review. Consequently, this has the potential to affect managers severely, given that their workforce is primarily comprised of individuals within this age group, as stated by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. So how does a manager assist with their staff’s mental health, while also being a successful leader?
How a manager can assist with Mental Health
A question that many managers ask themselves every day is “What is my purpose?” At the end of the day, the goal of a manager is to support and unify their staff towards a common role. While most managers are successful in attaining the latter, they often struggle with supporting their staff in terms of mental health. Here are some general suggestions for what a manager can do to help with this.
· Be Approachable: Many managers have their own offices or workspaces, and as such, despite their attempts to remain close, they end up being further than anyone else. Institute an office hours policy and make yourself available to your employees during certain time periods.
· Be Relatable: One of the great things for managers about the Great Resignation and pandemic is that it has made discussing mental health problems much more commonplace. Being honest about your own challenges can help employees recognize your priorities. Creating a company culture that is open to having dialogue about this can differentiate a business, and have several other benefits, such as staff unification, better policy changes, and enhance the mental connection employees have with the business. This can improve retention and create a phenomenon known as affective commitment.
· Overcommunicate: According to Qualtrics, “employees who felt their managers were not good at communicating have been 23% more likely than others to experience mental health declines.” Do not be afraid to provide clarifying details, and keep teams informed about organizational changes or updates. Be open during Employee 1:1s as well, and create a culture of checking in on fellow employees. It’s always been hard to read individuals, and with more remote workers than ever before, this problem is exacerbated.
· Recognize when someone isn’t doing well: Different people react differently to pressure and added responsibilities. This is known as worker stress; while it manifests uniquely amongst individuals, there are some common signs and behaviors indicative of stress.
a. Reclusive Behavior- This does not include introverted behavior, but rather the contrast between this and previous behavior
b. Change in Body Language- This once again, does not necessarily mean introverted behavior, but rather withdrawn activity, slumps, and similar posture.
c. Personality Clashes- When someone is in distress or dealing with trauma, they may lash out at other people, or attempt to withhold their grief.
d. Change in Productivity- Trauma survivors tend to have harsh changes within how much work they can accomplish.
What should a manager do after discovering mental health problems?
Once a manager has been made aware of someone struggling, it is up to them to deal with it in a compassionate and efficient way. No two individuals are the same, and as such, it is generally difficult to come up with a panacea for every single person. Have 1:1s to attempt to determine the source of the problem, and if necessary, utilize performance improvement plans to help reduce stress on the employee. At the end of the day, while the work is important, a mindset that all managers must retain is that the employee’s well-being comes first. Moving responsibilities elsewhere, offering time off, and similar actions may appear to hurt the company in the short-term, but will create a sense of corporate loyalty, and also win over the employee. Even more importantly, it helps make the employee feel better, and keeps them healthy.
How can a manager prevent Mental health issues?
Mental health issues will manifest themselves regardless of whatever a manager does. However, in a 2019 report done by SAP, the most desired mental health resources were a more open and accepting culture, clearer information about where to go or whom to ask for support, and training.
Many psychologists would say that common stressors are what eventually lead into mental health crises. Modifying these stressors ahead of time can really help with these problems. For example, looking into rules regarding leave and communication and modifying them to be clearer or more generous for direct reports can make a difference. Being direct with them can also help, especially when talking about how certain actions benefit them.
In March of 2020, Katherine Maher, who serves as the CEO of Wikimedia sent an email company-wide to talk about how to mitigate stress. The key phrase here was “if you need to dial back, that’s okay.” There is a reason that Wikimedia is so well regarded by its employees. A company culture such as this is worth its weight in gold. While this email was written at the forefront of COVID-19, much of what was stated in it can still be applied today.
Mental health is a tricky field to operate around, especially when managers need to be as successful as they can be to ensure the continuance and prosperity of their business. However, if a manager properly prioritizes this, it can allow the company to benefit even more than if mental health hadn’t been prioritized.
For those struggling with mental health, dialing 211 can help with any crisis or questions related to this. It’s entirely okay to not be doing well, and getting help is the first step to solving this crisis.