Mental Health Starts at the Top: 7 Tips for Leaders

I Don't Want To Change

In our fast-paced work environments, a leader’s commitment to mental health sets the tone for the entire team’s well-being and success.

By prioritizing mental wellness, leaders not only foster a supportive and productive workplace culture but also contribute to the organization’s resilience and sustainability.

This approach encourages trust, reduces burnout, and enhances engagement, making mental health a strategic priority that benefits both individuals and the broader organizational goals.

These 7 tips will help:

#1 Walk the talk 

What you say and do has a much greater impact than a policy sitting on your intranet.  Make your physical and mental self-care a priority.

It will not only elevate your mood and performance – research from the American Psychological Association shows that if a leader is in a positive mood, 93% of employees feel motivated (versus 38% if poor mood) and 91% have good job satisfaction (vs 30%).

Your mood is contagious. If you practice selfcare you will help keep your team in the green zone.

#2 Build Personal Scaffolding

Schedule quality time each week with people who are good for you. These are your greatest support when you have a setback or failure.

Having caring and supportive relationships is the number 1 predictor of a long, happy, healthy and affluent life – according to the longest continuous wellbeing study ever conducted (The Harvard Human Development Study, 1929 – 2024)

There are 3 critical elements of these strong scaffolding relationships – you:

  • Feel good after meeting them – you enjoy time with them, have common interests and laugh often.
  • Meet consistently with them (and ideally in person). Regularly interacting with them builds rapport and safety.
  • Can be vulnerable with them – a problem shared in a problem solved. Vulnerability builds trust and respect.

The benefits of caring and supportive relationships are immense.

#3 Build Strengths

We all have strengths and weaknesses. The very best leaders know their (and their teammates) strengths.

Gallup have identified 34 different strengths, and if we use our top 5 strengths each day, we are 600% more likely to be engaged with our work and 300% more likely to report high life satisfaction.

It is the same for the people that report to you.

If we ignore someone who reports to us there is a 40% likelihood that they will be disengaged. If we interact with them regularly and focus on their weaknesses, 22% will be disengaged.

BUT – if we coach them utilising their strengths only 1% are disengaged.

Good leaders know and build their top 5 strengths (and coach their teammates to do the same)

#4 Embrace Middle Managers

They are the key to your success and contribute 70% towards the engagement and wellbeing of your frontline teams (Gallup). They are also the meat in the sandwich between you and frontline staff.

They are feeling the heat with 52% exhausted, 49% stressed, and 43% overwhelmed (Deloitte, 2023).

Walk around and ask how they are going. Really listen.

What is the greatest challenge in their role?

What is one change that would make their lives easier? Act!

Care and listen your middle managers.

#5 Measure What Matters

Despite senior leadership team saying that employee wellbeing is a priority, it is astonishing how little the executive team know about the financial cost of mental ill-health – despite it being the largest cause of lost productivity.

Evidence-based contributors include – absenteeism, presenteeism, employee turnover, workers compensation premiums – and claim penalties, etc.

Despite this, only 12% of CFOs measure these factors (survey from webinar with 110 CFOs).

IN 60 SECONDS, YOU CAN FIND OUT THE COST WITH MENTAL ILL HEALTH CALCULATOR

In the first comment below you can find out your costs and the evidence that backs it

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What’s worse is that these are all lag factors – and new workplace mental health laws demand that the leadership team should also be measuring the root cause of unhealthy stress in the workplace.

The contributing factors include too much (or too little) work, poor change management, unclear role expectations, bullying, harassment, etc.

There are 3 main credible surveys to help leadership understand the root causes including:

  • People are work (developed by Comcare and WorkSafe – from various states). This is free
  • Thrive at Work (developed by Curtin University’s Future of Work Faculty)
  • FlourishDX (a private sector group)

#6 A Focused Plan

Having identified the main root causes of harmful stress, it is the essential that the leadership team sign off on a one-year plan about what strategies will be actioned to address the main cause of harmful stress.

This could involve:

  • Decide what will be your primary focus
  • Agree what training leaders and managers need address main issue
  • Lead by example and share your relevant story
  • How you will monitor progress regularly

At WeCARE365 we’ve created award winning eLearning that helps leaders prevent – and intervene early – with mental ill health issues. DM me if you would like an info pack

#7 – KEEP EXPERIMENTING

I once worked with a senior leader at a Big 4 bank whose team was experiencing burnout and stress because of the uncertainty and rate of change.

To help alleviate this – he committed to having a 30-minute Zoom call every 2 weeks outside of usual meetings. He told his team they could ask him any questions and he would be honest with them by answering (when he could) things:

  • He knew – and could tell them.
  • He knew – but couldn’t tell them yet.
  • He didn’t know the answer

Having these regular catch ups brought the stress levels down considerably – even when he was unable to answer all the questions.

We can never be 100% sure of the right action – but we must keep experimenting and trying new things. It is OK to make mistakes – but unacceptable not to learn from them.

Senior leaders must not just talk about change – but live and breathe it. Many change efforts fail because leaders don’t walk the talk.

Keep experimenting!

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