By Chris Shannon
Looking after the mental health and wellbeing of the people under your charge has always been an important priority for a leader – and after the challenges of the past year it’s now more crucial than ever. The pandemic’s devastating impact on mental health is well documented, so creating an environment and processes that support wellbeing is top of any leader’s agenda. But, although people pay lip-service to it being important, how do you actually make sure that it really is part of the DNA of your organization?
Nurturing the mental health of your team is not only ethically and morally the right thing to do, but also it’s critical from a business perspective. Creating an environment, culture and ethos that supports and enhances the mental health and wellbeing of your team is the fastest way to ensure that you and your business continue to thrive and to prosper.
When people are struggling to cope, it’s generally not because they lack skills, but rather that they lack clarity. The pressure they are facing coupled with their high anxiety levels mean they can’t focus. In most companies today, people have too many projects going on at any one time and there is a lot of ongoing transformation. Additionally, many people are in roles where they are constantly challenged by their manger – part and parcel of the role, of course, but it can represent another pressure, especially if their mental health isn’t robust.
Leaders must implement a three-pronged approach: first, you create a culture that genuinely and proactively supports mental health and wellbeing; then, you cultivate a mindset in yourself and your team based on an understanding of mental health as something that needs to be consciously nurtured; and, finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, you lead from the front.
I believe passionately that leaders must set a good example and walk the talk. For example, I meditate. Even if I can only find five minutes, it helps me enormously. There are well-documented and numerous benefits to meditation – including the ability it gives you to identify and to prioritize your tasks because you have clarity. Meditation helps you take a step back and ask: “Is this important?” and “Can I influence it?”.
So many people are stressed about things that are either not important, or things over which they have no control. The ability meditation gives you to clear your mind, to step back, to see the bigger picture and to identify where to focus your energy is hugely important.
Supporting good mental health and wellbeing isn’t rocket science – you just need to believe in what you are doing and to embed awareness across your organization. Alongside promoting meditation, there are a host of very easy actions leaders can take – actively encouraging people to take their holiday allocation, for example, and making sure that when they do and that they properly switch off. Another easy way to help address stressors at work is to normalize dialing into internal calls while walking the dog, perhaps, rather than sitting at your desk. In fact, just encouraging people to take a walk or to get active during the day is fundamentally simple and it helps give people a break from the sometimes-relentless inbox pings and video calls.
But leaders shouldn’t try to solve everything overnight. Changing mindset and culture is a gradual process. People should challenge their own ways of working, for example, are all those calls really necessary?
Leaders who want to improve their organizations’ approach to mindfulness, meditation and good mental health can make small, incremental changes that will significantly help people lead healthier, happier, more enjoyable lives – at home and at work.
Chris Shannon is the CEO of Fotech