3rd August 2021

The Missing Mental Health Days

How many sick days have you taken during your career? You can probably count them on your hands.

Now, how many mental health days have you taken? You perhaps don’t need your hands to count them because you’ve probably taken zero.

For many of us, even with the extraordinary stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, the stigma around mental health prevents us from taking a day off to focus on our emotional well-being.

Why is this important?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, employees with unresolved depression experience a 35% reduction in productivity. Employee burnout is also on the rise, as the World Health Organization now recognizes it in their 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases. 

As offices begin to re-open and employees face more transitions in the coming months, leaders can expect to see employees struggle with anxiety, depression, burnout, and PTSD. 

So, what can you do to destigmatize mental health and support your team as they face new stressors, safety concerns, and continued uncertainty which, triggers anxiety?

Be real and vulnerable.

It was February 17, 2021, 9:45 am and I was leading a Zoom training session for a client. My camera would not turn on and the PowerPoint deck was not loading correctly. As I watched my client’s face pinch up in frustration and anger, my ten-year-old daughter suddenly ran into my office screaming, “I need you to print my math worksheet right now! I’m supposed to be working on it with my small group!”

I yelled. Then the tears started streaming down my face, along with my mascara. The stress, relentless change and uncertainty, and my frustration with my ineptitude with remote school instruction and management all crashed down on me. 

Exhausted, overstretched, and over itmy client, her entire team, and my daughter watched me collapse.  

One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it has humanized us all. Those of us working from home have had no choice but to be transparent about our lives. We’ve seen into each other’s kitchens and living rooms. We’ve met each other’s dogs, roommates, and kids as they “joined” our Zoom meetings. 

As a leader, when you describe your own challenges—whether mental health related or not—you appear relatable, human, and brave. It opens the door for your team members to feel more comfortable talking with you about their own struggles and concerns. Authentic leadership can cultivate trust and enhance productivity and employee engagement. Do not be afraid to be real and vulnerable with your team.

Walk the Talk

Don’t say you support mental health. Model it so that your team members believe they can prioritize self-care and set boundaries around their professional and personal lives.

Proactively address meeting overwhelm.

Gather the team and assess the value of each team meeting on the calendar. Answer the questions below for each meeting.

  • Does the original purpose for the meeting still exist? 
  • How does the meeting help the team achieve its goals?
  • Does the purpose of the meeting align with the team’s strategic priorities? And/or the company’s strategic priorities?
  • Does the meeting energize the team, or does it suck the life right out of them?
  • Is the meeting a rehash of prior meetings?
  • What will the team not be able to accomplish, create, or build if they are in this meeting?
Eliminate back-to-back meetings.
  • Schedule meetings for the actual time required to achieve the meeting objective(s), not based on a default setting in the company’s calendar program.
  • Reduce the “standard” meeting time to 45 minutes to allow for a break between meetings.
Take breaks throughout the workday.

Go for a walk at lunch or facetime with a friend. Let your team know you are on a recharge break and encourage them to take them one as well.

Challenge and stop the never-ending workday.

Establish working agreements with your team on the following:

  • The time of the last meeting of the day.
  • Email “free” times to focus on high value tasks and projects.
  • Email response times for both internal and external colleagues, clients, and partners.

Promote and Support Social Wellbeing

How many virtual happy hours, masked backyard gatherings, and Zoom calls have you attended during the pandemic? We are social animals and have a primal need for human interaction.

One in four Americans report experiencing loneliness during most of their day. Social isolation and chronic loneliness have a devastating effect on physical and mental health. Lisa Berkman, a Gallup senior scientist and Harvard Professor, and her colleagues studied the relationship between social and community ties and mortality rates across nine years. People who lacked community and social ties had mortality risks two times greater than people with many social contacts. 

Social time is vital for your team members’ mental and physical health. However, social needs and preferences vary. Some people thrive with constant connectivity, interaction, parties, events, in meeting new people, and participating in group discussions. Others prefer smaller groups, need periods of isolation to get work done, and thrive on one-on-one conversations. 

To determine the best way to support your team members’ social wellbeing, discuss the following question with your team:

  • How can we celebrate each other’s personal and professional success in our work environment?
  • How can we show our support for each other and support each other’s social and emotional wellbeing?
  • How can we create regular opportunities for us to socialize as a team?
  • How can we support each other’s need for personal time to socialize and connect with friends and family?

It has been a challenging year for most of us. As much as we might want to return to life before the pandemic, we will not. Let’s use this opportunity to build cultures that value and support all aspects of team members’ wellbeing. A mentally healthy workplace enables your employees to thrive. When your employees thrive, your business thrives.

Get a free guide to help support you and your teams here.