Mental health’s impact on company health – What leaders need to DO (Part 2)

It’s just the beginning of March, and already I’m hearing cries from all corners of the business world – from corporate executives to start-up entrepreneurs – about the grind that they’re starting to feel as we fully immerse into 2021.

I won’t repeat the sentiments in Part 1 of this series on mental health and wellness – for ease of access, here’s the article.

In summary, my view is that it’s up to leaders to acknowledge that mental wellness is likely to be a key factor in any company’s state of health, and that the capacity and resilience of people (including the leaders themselves) will possibly be the single biggest determinant of growth and success in the year ahead.

While my opinions may be sound, what I failed to provide in the first piece (hence this second part follow up) were some pointers on initiatives to address what by now may have become chronic stress, anxiety, burnout, exhaustion, general malaise, depression and so forth, among a company’s staff.

So, here are some strategies and actions that leaders can consider taking on. Most of these ideas are not my own – they have been shared with me by the leaders I interviewed for my upcoming book, The Living Room Leader. These leaders had already started implementing some of these wellness strategies right at the outset of Covid with the change to work-from-home setups. Many of them have sustained these initiatives up until today, and I believe this is key in maintaining emotionally and mentally robust companies and team health.

  1. Double down on personal care calls

In the early days of Covid, everyone was very focused on communication. Lots of it, with at least some being directed to personal wellbeing. By communicating (and sometimes over-communicating), leaders were able to get a sense of the ‘pulse’ of their teams, and address fears, concerns and anxieties as soon as they arose.

With time, the focus seems to have shifted to business as usual via video, and the calls to check on people and how they are doing have been replaced by the standard meetings, internal and external, with less attention now being placed on individual wellbeing.

Some people have managed to adjust satisfactorily to new ways of remote working, but those who haven’t are suffering – often in silence, because it seems that no one is listening and everyone else is just getting on with it.

What you can do right now: Return to the personal care calls with regularity!

  1. Ensure regular wellness breaks and more leave

Whaaattt! But we’ve just come back from a break! Why more leave?

Indeed, many people took some kind of leave at the end of the year, but very few can claim to have taken the kind of proper break needed to rest and rejuvenate. We all know why – second waves all over the world, reduced travel and hence limited contact with family and loved ones, restrictions on all kinds of typical celebratory events that were cancelled, etc.

People may have taken days off work, but the intended impact of coming back to work in the new year with the energy and drive to push hard again was just not there for most.

So, the antidote to the pervasive sense of fatigue that may already have crept in is, yes, more leave.

Some smart companies have already instituted enforced breaks, such as the last Friday of every month is a leave day for the whole company. Others are offering unlimited leave (with conditions), rotating leave for teams, or half-days.

What you can do right now: Figure out a leave strategy that might work for your organisation, and try it out for a period. You need not make it a company policy forever – just beta test it, and see how people respond.

  1. Create a remote water-cooler for groups to gather and chat

In the early days of remote working, many companies (usually the HR teams, or those with the people and culture portfolios) made a big effort to help people feel connected to one another, by arranging online social events – ranging from cook-offs, to happy hours, to group yoga sessions.

As time passed, these have in many cases fallen by the wayside, understandably. The novelty factor wore off, or people just couldn’t stand one more damn Zoom, or in some countries, things opened up enough to enable some social connection.

The impact of nixing the social and informal connection (the attempt to recreate the interactions that typically happen at the water-cooler or coffee machine in the office environment), is that now almost all collegial interaction is work-related. Not much fun at all. Not much time for connection, laughter, or bonding.

What you can do right now: Bring back the socials. Or find time in team meetings for people to chat in breakout rooms. It’s up to you to create the opportunity and the space.

Of course, if you have budget and infrastructure, you can go the whole hog and offer psychological counselling (at company expense) for those who need it, or group support sessions facilitated by trained coaches, and more.

Or you can just invest the time and focus on one or more of the three initiatives above. They cost very little, but will likely offer a significant increase in health, wellbeing, and ultimately engagement and productivity of your teams.