Managing for mental wellbeing

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme this year is anxiety. Many employers will be providing talks, activities and resources to support greater awareness of the importance of our mental health and wellbeing.

One of the most important factors in workplace mental health is how employees perceive they’re being managed. So if you manage someone, that’s you. How you treat this person on a daily basis contributes to the state of their mental wellbeing.

Welcome to your job.

‘What, me?!’ Yes, you. So if your employer is providing anything remotely relevant for Mental Health Awareness week, grab it with both hands and pay close attention. Starting this week, and for all the other weeks in the year, here are some simple steps you can take to do your bit and manage for mental wellbeing.

1.Ensure people feel physically safe at work
We’re right at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy here; you may be wondering what on earth that has to do with you and the contemporary office environment. If so, here’s a refresher: #metoo. Don’t tolerate – or perpetrate – harassment and bullying. And I’d add that stipulating people work late into the night to get the job done can compromise physical safety, for example on their journey home, and impact their wellbeing through exhaustion if this becomes the norm.

2.Welcome new people onboard
The notion of ‘sink or swim’ has been consigned to the past of people management practice. You know how that first impression – when you walk into a café, your holiday accommodation, an office environment – can make a big…impression? So it is with new joiners. Those first few hours, days and weeks are critical.

3.Acknowledge that people have lives beyond work
This isn’t just ‘did you have a good weekend?’ People may have real pressures in their lives beyond work, and that’s bound to affect the person who shows up at the job. Recently I’ve heard about someone who went from being in a happy family to being the sole parent and breadwinner for two young children. That’s bound to affect work in some way. He has an understanding employer; not everyone is so lucky.

4.Give people some autonomy to do the job
The degree of autonomy will vary according to the level of ability the person has and the level of importance the task has. If it’s the first time they’ve done this task, they’ll have less autonomy than the twentieth time they’ve done it. When I lead Zoomly’s ‘How to delegate effectively’ workshop, participants get the message that it’s OK to explain to someone that they’ll have more autonomy over time as they get the hang of tasks.

5.Champion people’s learning and development
Active support and sponsorship of employees’ learning and development is a critical element in whether or not learning sticks – or slips away. If a team member has a skills gap, help them get the training they need and support them as they take those first formative steps in applying it.

6.Give and get feedback
People need to know how they’re doing – frequently. The annual appraisal is only part of a continuous process of agreeing goals, identifying steps towards them and building awareness of performance that merits praise – or needs to improve. This doesn’t have to be a Big Deal – rather it’s a series of short conversation as part of getting the job done. Elicit feedback from the people you manage on how you can work more effectively with them.

7.Treat people fairly
We can gravitate towards those who are more like us – it’s human. This is particularly noticeable at work and with those we manage. People whose approach to the job is similar to our own can seem better performers in our eyes. Focus on behaviour – what someone’s actually doing, not your subjective opinion of it – evaluate the impact that behaviour has and you’ll be better placed to treat people fairly.

8.Set an example
Or ‘put on your mask on first’. Hopefully you’ll be getting useful tips this week at work. The Mental Health Foundation has practical suggestions to help you look after your own mental health and wellbeing. When you take your own mental health seriously, your colleagues are more likely to do the same for themselves.  Stay well.


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’

Image credit: Mental Health Foundation


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