Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on our health. It’s not just our physical health that the virus has hurt – it’s also done a lot of damage to our mental health.
This year has been the most stressful year in history, according to research by technology company Oracle and HR research and advisory firm Workplace Intelligence. Their study of more than 12,000 employees, managers, HR leaders, and C-level executives across 11 countries found that COVID-19 has increased workplace stress, anxiety and burnout for people all around the world.
Globally, 70% of respondents said they were more stressed and anxious at work than ever before.
Given this context, what can leaders do to support their teams? On World Mental Health Day, five experts share their advice:
1. Pay attention to how your mood is impacting others
You may be inadvertently contributing to the team’s stress, warns Dr Guy Lubitsh, a chartered organisational psychologist, professor at UK business school Hult Ashridge and co-author of new book, Connect: Resolve conflict, improve communication, strengthen relationships.
Lubitsh believes leaders need to go beyond the rhetoric and role model good leadership behaviors. These include keeping positive, staying tuned to the emotional needs of team members, and establishing clear boundaries around workload.
He adds: “You need to be able to show an appropriate degree of vulnerability that can help the team open an honest conversation on mental health issues and coping strategies.”
2. Be empathetic
“Being a leader is a far deeper responsibility than leading the business outcome alone,” says Mimi Nicklin, a globally recognised millennial thought-leader. She is host of the Empathy for Breakfast show and Secrets of The Gap podcast, and author of Softening the Edge. “As leaders, we have an unending ability to impact the health and lives of our team, and change how our fellow human beings thrive in their daily life.
Nicklin advises: “Our understanding of the mental wellbeing of those around us is no longer about talking about change, but truly listening and acting on this intel. Empathy is our data set and it’s time we started using it to create sustainable momentum to lower levels of work-induced strain.”
3. Help teams to develop their emotional literacy
“People who suffer with anxiety, depression or many other unhelpful emotional states are often unable to turn on and sustain more positive emotional states, explains Dr Alan Watkins, CEO and co-founder of development business Complete and co-author of HR (R)Evolution: Change The Workplace, Change The World. “But no one has taught them how to do this. We have yet to develop the skill of emotional literacy and emotional regulation.”
He continues: One of the best ways to support yourself is to learn more about emotional regulation. Recognising and mastering your emotional states will help you in your long-term wellbeing. You are not alone. Most people are wonderful human beings who need help to ‘read’ and ‘write’ emotions and develop their emotional literacy and emotional intelligence.”
4. Tap into your creativity
A study of more than 2,000 people by innovation business GENIUS YOU found a lack of internal sharing of ideas (22.8%) and insufficient brainstorm sessions (18.2%) were highlighted as two of the main barriers to creativity in the workplace.
There are two major implications of this in the COVID era, according to GENIUS YOU founder Mark Simmonds. “Firstly, there has never been a time when it has been more important to be innovative. Secondly, as employees struggle to cope with the new normal – home working, Zoom fatigue and feeling a sense of great uncertainty – they can alleviate the pressure on their mental wellbeing by increasing the amount of human interaction they get, albeit in the digital space.”
5. Don’t forget about the company’s emotional health
Yes, you read that right. Your company has emotional health, according to Dr Michael Beattie, a chartered counselling psychologist and part of the team at mental health training specialists nscience.
He argues that poor mental health in organizations happens in the context of the overall health or illness of that organization. As a result, he says it’s key that leaders model the importance of mental health by actively “living out a compassionate leadership style”. They should take a genuine interest in their team, bring positive energy and enthusiasm to work, use their leadership role to build connections between team members, and link individuals’ contributions back to the wider business.