Employee Mental Health

by Kevin Eikenberry, co-founder The Remote Leadership Institute

Distress comes in many forms and from a variety of causes. As leaders, we want to help our team members be successful, and distress can be a serious barrier to successful outcomes. That is why we must understand the sources of distress before we can help people as they deal with it.

Major Types of Distress

While there are many sources of distress, they fall into two categories:

  • Major life events. While there are happy life events, distress is most often caused by tantric events like a divorce or the death of a family member or close friend. These situations produce profound change in our lives and as we are living through it can make normal activities exceptionally challenging. 
  • Ongoing situations. These don’t have the immediate impact of a divorce or a death, but over time, but the stress and anxiety is real and may be more debilitating as people may not see an end in sight. Stressors like these include an ongoing health issue, severe financial challenges, and things like the COVID-19 situation.

Lately, leaders have been asking about what role they should play in monitoring or helping employees deal with stress and mental health issues.  Leaders who are asking this question are heading in the right direction.  While you’re not a mental health professional and shouldn’t pretend to be, you are a human who hopefully cares about your team members beyond their professional contributions. How we feel clearly impacts our ability to focus, interact with others, and be productive. 

What Leaders Can Do

First, you must be empathetic, which starts with awareness. You must know where your employees are, what issues are facing them, and how they are dealing with them. Now, while your team members may be working from home, this might be harder to do, but it is probably more important than ever.  Make sure at the start of your conversations to check in on how people are doing, before moving on to the work.  Simply showing your interest will make a difference, and the conversation will help you gauge how people are doing and how you might be able to help.

And while it’s not your job to diagnose or treat mental health issues, here are some things you can do that will help your team members relieve or deal with what is stressing them:

    1. Provide a safe atmosphere. This starts with you working hard to understand how people are doing and being empathetic, but goes far beyond that. Do everything you can to help team members feel safe coming to you with a concern or a problem. We can’t help if we don’t know what is going on. 
    2. Encourage breaks. Your employees shouldn’t feel guilty if they’re not at their desk every minute. They should know they have your permission to get up and take mental and physical breaks from the tasks they’re working on. 
    3. Create paths for connection. Personal connections, whether face to face in an office or virtually, are an important way we all can “immunize” ourselves against stress and anxiety. Our value to each other as teammates goes far beyond the work we do. Encourage and model those connections, like “virtual coffee breaks” or sharing a goofy meme on your Slack channel. Anything to remind us that we’re still surrounded by a group of people that care about us will help.

Refer to HR or an EAP program for Mental Health Issues

Please use these resources if you have them available. If your organization doesn’t have those resources, look to find them yourself.  If you suspect there’s a mental health issue that requires treatment (e.g. depression, severe anxiety, relational problems, addictions, etc.) don’t try to handle that yourself. Be a supportive leader and help your employee get the professional help they need.

The best leaders help people take care of themselves while they’re doing their work. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do if we’re going to lead successful and productive remote teams.

You’re not just the leader of the team, you’re an integral part of it. Helping and encouraging each other in personal as well as professional ways is part of being a good remote teammate. Right now we’re offering our learning program, 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate at a tremendous discount (and also on-demand so it doesn’t take 12 weeks). Leaders go first and you can set the tone for your team by taking advantage of this great program.

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Kevin Eikenberry is a recognized world expert on leadership development and learning and is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (http://KevinEikenberry.com). He has spent nearly 30 years helping organizations across North America, and leaders from around the world, on leadership, learning, teams and teamwork, communication and more.
Twice he has been named by Inc.com as one of the top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World and has been included in many other similar lists.

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