Throughout my experience working in People Teams, mental wellbeing and poor mental health have always been topics of discussion. In particular, for managers - how can we support our teams and manage conversations around mental wellbeing? We have a duty of care and, of course, want everyone to feel safe, well, and supported at work, including in terms of their wellbeing.
Mental ill health affects different people in different ways. This can include the length of time they experience it for. For example:
Temporary - the person experiences the condition for a short time and recovers after treatment.
Fluctuating - sometimes the person experiences the condition, sometimes they don’t.
Ongoing - the person experiences the mental health condition all of the time and controls it through a combination of the following:
- Talking therapies
- Practical support
Spot the signs...
These will differ from person to person and are sometimes not easy to spot. However, you can still look out for these signs:
- Changes in behaviour
- Emotional symptoms i.e. teary or angry
- Other concerns i.e. sudden change in performance
- Socially isolating
- Poor motivation or concentration
- Lack of energy
- Physical symptoms such as headaches
Top tips - how can we support our teams?
- Spot the signs and start to have conversations (Managers - build relationships and ensure you have open communication with your team members). Ensure 121s have a personal element and not transactional.
- Be open and talk about your own mental health. Of course, you don’t need to divulge anything personal that you wouldn’t want to share, but by leading by example and sharing your own feelings, you create an open culture and one in which people feel a wider sense of belonging.
- Ensure your team is taking annual leave and regular breaks. Recognize this also after busy periods - are you able to also offer them some flexi-time or half a day in order to recoup?
- Communication: ask questions and listen, think about the time and place, treat them the same when discussing mental wellbeing, be patient, don’t assume.
- Encourage open discussions between colleagues - the bigger the conversation, the more open others will be to open up.
- If people on your team are sick, encourage them to be honest about their reason - as a result, we can best support them. However, I would say this will happen as a natural result of fostering an open and supportive environment.
Burnout - what I do to help myself!
Now, I have to practise what I preach! How did I recognize the signs when I went through a period of ill mental health? The best way I can describe it is you feel like you are in a bubble - I was totally burnt out! Have you ever had that feeling when people are speaking to you and you feel glazed over and not engaged? That was me when I was burnt out. Often the worst part of it is, it's the people in your personal life that feel it the most and see this impact. You will still try and bring your best self to work but when the laptop screen goes down, your exhaustion is left with the people around you!
So, what do I do now to try and limit this in the future?
- Being bubbly and open can often come with its downfalls. I have the ability to be able to (what I call) ‘switch it on and switch it off’ in terms of my personality during the working day. Being realistic, being ‘on’ is often being my true self. But if I am having a busy day or feeling stressed - I will often let my close work colleagues know, who are great at supporting me. Or, I’ll be honest- when we all do the "how are you’s" at the start of calls I’ll say "It's a busy day, I’m all good, but busy", or "feeling a bit tired, but good thanks" (although don’t brush it off if it is usually more than just a busy day!). This is often if I seem a little flat, I am good but sometimes the ability to switch it on all the time can be draining!
- I make sure I take my lunch breaks and try to finish on time when I can - contractual right ;). But let's be honest - we don’t all do it! However, we should, and we must! I often find taking myself away from the desk truly helps me the most as well as separating work from my personal life!
- If I am having one of those weeks and I am at home head down on the laptop, I’ll go into the office and really try to keep that day for in-person meetings and being able to chat with my colleagues. I find it really helps for me to go into the office, get a bit of perspective, and change of scenery!
Final thoughts - why supporting mental wellbeing is beneficial for businesses
Not only is supporting your employees mental wellbeing the right thing to do from the perspective of having a duty of care to your people, there is also clear business benefits in doing so:
- Reduces turnover
- Better employee morale
- Reduced sickness absence
- Reduced presenteeism
- More engaged and committed employees
- Skills retention