Leaders must look after their mental health first

Leaders are under enormous pressure to succeed. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many organizations to rapidly deploy their employees to work-from-home roles, the pressure has never been more severe.

Leaders not only have the success of their people in their hands, but other pressures will suddenly become magnified. There is nothing like proximity in a world that is socially distancing from each other to bring everyday issues sharply into focus.

Issues that center on personal space are largely inescapable when working from home – family, finance, health, and so on. This serves to magnify workplace issues, with both areas of your life suddenly overlapping, and seemingly inextricably so. When professional and personal lives collide like this, the effects of mental anguish in the workplace (albeit, now a virtual workplace) are hugely magnified.

Many organizations are (quite rightly) providing mental health support for employees through this difficult time. However, leaders, as well as employees, are prone to distress, anxiety, depression and trauma.

The effects of mental anguish in the workplace

Mental anguish affects us in many ways:

  • One of the first effects is often to deplete motivation. The desire to do is diminished and productivity falls.
  • Attitude is also affected, with previous optimism replaced by pessimism.
  • Mental anguish often causes irritability and anger.
  • A lack of focus, and possibly a decrease in memory.
  • Mood swings.

A leader who is suffering from poor mental health and mental anguish could become demotivated, pessimistic, aggressive, and lack focus. That’s not the leadership that any organization wants. The effect on employees, teams and the organization could be devastating. In a world in which employees are engaged by an influencing style of leadership, the mental health of leaders is critical.

To be able to promote good mental health and well-being, an organization must create the environment and culture in which vulnerability is embraced and people can be open about their mental health. This must start with leadership – to empower employees to care for their mental health, leaders must look after their mental health first.

When leading remote teams, a complicating factor is the social isolation which can quickly consume leaders and their people.

Be emotionally connected to yourself

Leaders are, of course, responsible for the mental health of their people. Organizations are leading this by creating cultures in which mental health is understood and that stigmatization is eliminated. It is disingenuous to think that such a culture can exist if leaders do not recognize their own issues and share their vulnerabilities.

Employees are led by example. Values-based leadership transforms organizational culture – but culture is evidenced by the way that people within the organization act. If the organization says one thing and its leaders do another, the authenticity of organizational culture will be questioned.

An organization that desires to be caring must demonstrate that it is empathetic in how it operates. Its leaders must demonstrate the emotional intelligence to acknowledge their own ability to listen to their own feelings to be able to affirm their empathy to others.

A strong leader takes care of their own mental health first

Leaders who fail to take care of their own mental health risk their actions and reactions creating a toxic workplace environment. The potential for mood swings, pessimism, diminishing motivation and a lack of focus to negatively impact an organization’s employees is very real.

Perhaps worse, when a leader overlooks their own mental health, they emasculate the importance that an organization places on mental health across the whole organization. It becomes an espoused value, and your culture will be held as hypocritical.

It is, therefore, imperative that we understand that leaders can suffer from stress, mental anguish at work, and low self-esteem. In a caring organization, it is critical that leaders are connected to their emotional self and look after their mental health first to reinforce the human-centric nature of the organization’s culture.

Being remote does not mean being alone

Organizations have a duty of care toward their employees. We are all human, and one of the basic needs of humans is to feel connection to others. In the 1940s, psychologist Abraham Maslow developed his model hierarchy of needs. He describes that our needs include a sense of connection to others (which he describes as ‘love and belonging’). This social connection keeps us going.

Indeed, for many – leaders and managers included – one of the most enjoyable aspects of work is the social element. When working remotely, it is important to create strategies to maintain this. Remote working should not lead to social isolation, but should encompass new ways of avoiding social isolation.

Plan virtual social time

As you develop new work routines when working and managing teams from home, it is critical to factor in social time. This is a legitimate use of time and crucial for good mental health. Strategies for doing so include:

  • Taking virtual lunch breaks, connecting on Zoom or Skype to catch up. This isn’t a time for work, but a time to stay connected socially, chatting about the day-to-day things that you would normally discuss with colleagues in the office.
  • Arranging virtual water cooler catch-ups, to spend a couple of minutes connecting by phone (or video).

Trust your employees

Managing a team remotely inherently requires a greater degree of trust in your employees. As a manager, you must guide your people in the work they do and trust them to do that work in ways that empower them to be at their most productive. Remote teams cannot be micromanaged. Allow them greater autonomy by giving them tasks that utilize their personal strengths and be available to guide solution finding.

In summary

These are unprecedented times in which we are living. The rapid spread of COVID-19 infection and the actions that organizations are taking means many more people are working from home. The extra pressure on leaders and managers is tangible.

Mental health strategies for leaders and employees are key to achieving the full potential all in your organization. To learn how improving emotional intelligence can help your leaders and managers create a caring, values-based organization of which all can be proud, contact us today

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