Hands holding a flat smiley face against a blue background, symbolising workplace wellbeing.
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How managers can look after their teams’ wellbeing

12 Oct 2022

Hays’ Sandra Henke shares her advice for managers on how look after their teams’ mental health and watch out for signs of burnout.

World Mental Health Day took place on Monday (10 October), with this year’s theme being ‘Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority’.

For many of us, it was the first World Mental Health Day since 2019 where our lives somewhat resemble those we experienced pre-Covid. However, while the effects of the pandemic have encouraged many of us to be more open about our wellbeing, there is still a way to go.

A poll from Hays on LinkedIn last month showed that only 51pc of nearly 27,000 respondents said they could be open about their mental health with their manager at work.

If you manage somebody who feels the same way, don’t take it personally. Here are some of the steps you can take to identify an employee whose mental health is deteriorating, as well as what you can do to support them and take preventative measures.

Spotting the signs that someone is struggling

Many of us are now used to the hybrid model, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier. In fact, many have argued recently that quiet quitting is a move to preserve one’s own mental wellbeing. Furthermore, much of the guidance still applies if you engage with one another regularly in person.

The signs won’t be the same for everyone, and they won’t always be clear if you don’t see somebody regularly. However, there are some indications that often mean something is wrong.

The common signs include a change in mood or behaviour, how they interact with others, whether they have become withdrawn from their work, a lack of motivation or focus, or feeling tired or anxious.

A good leader is approachable. However, the truth is that many people only feel comfortable opening up with those closest to them, if anyone at all. Don’t feel bad if you spot signs of anxiety or depression in one of team, but they don’t step forward.

It’s good that you’re available for them, but never put pressure on anyone to reveal anything. The vital thing is that, once someone is ready to speak to you, you’re there to support them.

Being there for your people

How can you offer support for an employee struggling with their mental health?

Understand what you are capable of and responsible for. Recognising that something is wrong, but being unable to change it, can leave you feeling helpless and guilty yourself.

Instead, focus on what you can do. You can be a confidante for them, and as a leader you may be able to make positive changes to their working life. That doesn’t mean being available 24/7, though – make sure that the boundaries they expect of you are reciprocated. If you’re going to promote a healthy work-life balance to prevent burnout, lead by example.

In September, the World Health Organization (WHO) released their guidelines on mental health at work, providing guidance and actions for employers. The paper encourages training in mental health literacy and awareness, but recommends:

“Training of workers in mental health literacy and awareness is designed to improve knowledge about mental health … and enable workers to support themselves or colleagues appropriately … The training is not designed for workers to become mental healthcare providers or to diagnose or treat mental disorders.”

This knowledge is appropriate for many managers as they support their people. Is this training something that you can propose at your organisation? There’s reason to be optimistic. According to UK charity Mind, 56pc of employers have confirmed they’d like to improve employee wellbeing but don’t have the right guidance.

Could you take time in the weeks following World Mental Health Day to acknowledge it and promote awareness in a meaningful way?

Embedding wellbeing into your values as a leader

As well as reacting, it’s time to take measures to prevent your team’s mental health from deteriorating. This isn’t easy and involves being honest about the environment you foster.

Of over 17,000 respondents to another Hays poll last month, just 28pc agreed that their organisation promoted wellbeing among its employees. In contrast, 41pc denied this was the case.

In the past I’ve written a piece about the employee value proposition and, namely, the statistics that show workers are willing to walk away if they feel their wellbeing is being compromised at work. Of course, simply retaining your staff should not be your main motivator to look out for their wellbeing. However, the stat serves as a reminder of how deeply this can affect your team.

The WHO policy brief, published in line with their recent guidelines, recommends that managers are trained to “advocate for action on mental health at work from the top down”.

Maybe you’re not in a position to effect change on a company-wide level. In that case, think about the positive culture you create in your team. Make sure that everyone is involved and feels comfortable communicating with not just yourself, but one another too.

As well as being approachable, be a compassionate leader. Schedule in regular one-to-one catch-ups to discuss any problems your team are facing at work. Arrange team meetings to keep everyone connected and encourage casual conversations. If possible, organise social events so that your team can unwind (and let off steam).

Be inclusive. It can be very difficult to try to tackle such a sensitive issue with one of your team. Instead, think about the structural stigma that may exist in your workplace (or, specifically, team) and think about how you can dismantle this.

Take steps to ensure your people don’t experience burnout. It starts with promoting a healthy attitude toward working hours yourself and recognising quality of work over quantity.

This might require you to think about the biases you hold toward ‘hard-working’ team members. Encourage them to take regular breaks where possible, as well as holidays to fully relax. Try not to let any workaholic tendencies become widespread within the group.

Think about how you can foster a healthy working environment for your team by promoting communication and inclusivity. Ensure that they know you are approachable and encourage your organisation to offer training so that you can spot the signs of burnout and poor wellbeing among your people.

By Sandra Henke

Sandra Henke is the group head of people and culture at Hays. A version of this article previously appeared on the Hays Viewpoint blog.

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