As we mentioned in a recent article; how to lead remotely for the long term, working away from the office is here to stay. One thing which comes hand in hand with that is making sure your team are coping with this adjustment to their working lives.
This is especially important with the additional challenges surrounding COVID-19. Lockdowns and social restrictions mean that people may not have been able to seek the emotional support they need from elsewhere.
In the earlier article, we touched on the mental health challenges faced when working remotely. Today we are going to delve a little deeper: what are the indicators to look out for? And how can you support those who are struggling with their mental health?
Mental health in the workplace
In the past, mental health wasn’t exactly something you would openly talk about, especially at work. A company may not have thought it was their business or responsibility to get involved with the mental wellbeing of their staff. Most mental health issues were thought to be caused by a person’s private life.
However, recently the conversation around mental health has exploded as people become more comfortable talking about their wellbeing. It is now more widely acknowledged that it is something everyone should be paying attention to and providing support for – especially in the workplace.
After all, we spend a lot of time working and, as it turns out, it can be the cause for a lot of people’s distress. In fact, research conducted by CIPD found that 70% of employee mental health problems are either directly caused by work or by a combination of work and home life.
What could impact mental health?
There are many reasons that someone could be struggling with their mental health. It could be caused by work related stress, a distressing family circumstance or it could simply be down to genetics.
At the moment in particular, working remotely can have a big impact on the wellbeing of team members. Lack of physical and social contact can leave individuals feeling isolated and lonely.
Mental health problems could be more common than you think
The Mental Health Foundation report that one in six people experience symptoms of mental health problems in any given week. That is a lot of people, which means you will probably have a team member who could do with some support.
They also believe that ‘good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand.’ They argue that there is strong evidence that teams with strong mental wellbeing are in fact more productive. So, as the saying goes, a happy team is a productive team.
Identifying those who may be suffering with their mental health
The next question you’re probably asking yourself is ‘how do I know if someone is struggling’? An individual’s mental health is likely to fluctuate over time.
There are a number of indicators you can look out for to identify if a team member is having a dip in their mental health, including:
- A change of behaviour or mood
- Seeming tired, withdrawn or more sensitive compared to usual
- Appearing distracted, procrastinating or not working at all
- A drop in their usual standards of work
- Chaotic, intense or obsessive behaviour.
It’s also hugely important to be aware of what could be causing stress whilst working from home. Possible triggers for a decline in mental health include:
- Long hours and no breaks
- Unrealistic expectations, tight deadlines and unmanageable workloads
- Poor communication between team members, including management
- Bad remote working culture and lack of support
- Unpractical working environment.
Being attentive and spotting any changes early means you are able to act quickly. Addressing problems fast will help prevent mental ill health escalating and becoming a crisis. For those leaders who take the time to really get to know their team and have regular catch-ups, these signs will be easier to spot.
Staying in touch is key when remote working
Working remotely does throw up some challenges, though. There is only so much you can gather from someone over a video call, and even less if you are just communicating by email.
Regular one to one calls with each member of the team are a necessity to ensure everyone is coping well.
It is important to remember, however, that if you do spot any of the above signs you should never simply assume someone is struggling. Instead, it is always best to ask.
How to support team members who are struggling
Check in regularly
As we just mentioned, it is important to have regular contact with those in your team. Simply asking if someone is ok could be the difference between an issue staying buried or a problem being solved.
Start a conversation
Someone who is suffering from a dip in their mental wellbeing isn’t likely to initiate a conversation about it. That’s why it’s important for you, as a leader, to approach the subject if you have any concerns.
Do it cautiously but in a positive and supportive way, bearing in mind that some people may not want to or be ready to talk. If this is the case, just make sure the individual knows you are available to talk whenever they are ready.
You should consider what your trust level is with the team member you’re trying to support. If the trust level is low, they are less likely to share. Work on building this trust in other ways rather than pushing for answers if they are not ready. In our previous article, we mentioned Stephen Covey’s Emotional Bank Account metaphor. If your attempts at communicating with a member of staff don’t appear to be working, it could be a good idea to refamiliarize yourself with that concept.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is simply listen. Asking how someone is doing in a warm and encouraging way is the best place to start. Talking through a problem can be a real weight off the shoulders of someone who is struggling.
Scheduling in a call specifically to talk about how a team member is getting on will encourage them to be open and honest. They know you have set aside some uninterrupted time to listen so they may not feel like they are burdening you or wasting your time.
Considering the best course of action
Think about what course of action you can take to help improve the mental wellbeing of that member of your team. Some options to consider include coaching, creating a plan, additional support, mentoring or training to help them rebalance their workload. The right route will, of course, depend on the individual involved and what they have revealed to you about how and why they are struggling.
Coming up with tangible next steps will show you are taking their mental health seriously. Helping your team member find ways to recover is the best way you can support them.
Set an example and remove the taboo
Although, as we have already mentioned, the discussion around mental health is far more open these days, it still pays to be proactive about the wellbeing of your team members. Some may still find mental health a bit of a taboo subject.
Make it clear that you treat mental illness the same way that you would physical illness. Encourage your team to talk about how they are feeling and instil confidence that private conversations will not be disclosed to anyone without their express permission.
Be a role model
Most importantly, make sure you are well equipped with the skills and knowledge to effectively manage the health and well-being of yourself and your team.
Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. If there is anything you do that you find particularly useful discuss it in a team catch up. Encourage the team to try it themselves or share any stress busting techniques of their own.