Mental health awareness has become a hot topic in recent years, but is it enough? We’ll look at ways for business leaders to stay proactive about managing their mental health, even when it might not feel like the biggest priority. We’ll also be looking at how they can use these skills to help manage their teams during turbulent economic times. 

The current toll of mental pressure on leaders

While the conversation tends to steer around how to boost employee wellbeing, there’s been less of an emphasis on looking after your own mental health as a leader. However, for many business leaders, it’s not always clear where to start. According to the BACP, two thirds of UK business owners feel as if they are struggling with their mental health, but deprioritise it in favour of financial success instead. 

With new geopolitical tensions and supply chain disruptions emerging, Ernst & Young found in their 2022 Global Report that CEOs are having to plan for ‘multiple possible futures’; only 2% did not anticipate an economic downturn. This means there’s increased pressure for business leaders to keep morale high. Therefore, learning how to manage this stress helps business leaders and their teams to stay focused and on track. As we found in 2022, new research suggests that prioritising work wellbeing in general is good for both people and profits, leading to a win-win situation for CEOs.

Happiness at work is a shared responsibility

The Covid-19 pandemic in particular notably hit leaders in health and social care roles, and these issues still persist. A 2022 study by the King’s Fund found that their current challenge is ‘monumental’ and requires a key shift in leadership towards more collective leadership styles. The article emphasised that compassionate leadership is not a ‘soft option’, but rather one that requires resilience, courage and belief. Increased staff shortages and low morale in these sectors means that leaders may have to rethink their approach to management if they are to reduce their stress levels. 

This connects with what we discovered in our Work Wellbeing 2022 Insights Report – employees strongly believed that ‘happiness is a shared responsibility between individuals and the organisation, with managers having a critical role’. So now, we’ll look at some resources for business leaders to help manage their own mental health, as well as that of their teams.

Resources for managing teams during crises

Keeping mental health in check during turbulence can feel challenging, especially without the right toolkit to hand. Business leaders who are able to manage their own mental health may be more likely to be able to ‘show up’ as authorities to their team, and lead them better.

‘Showing up’ as a leader

Leaders play a critical role in helping protect their teams from feelings of uncertainty during a crisis. This means checking in with their own stress levels, and taking time off when needed. Leaders might be able to better regulate their own fears about the future with a social media detox – The Guardian found that access to large amounts of negative information online can be overwhelming. Consider fighting social media addiction with ideas like distraction-free time, screen time boundaries, and turning lunch into a social opportunity.

Creating a work-life balance for both you and your employees

We found that business leaders are currently deprioritising mental health in favour of financial success, but they might be able to reduce their stress levels is to strike a better work-life balance. Flock’s survey found that planned time away helps people to do better at work, and that business owners leading by example here may improve employee quality of work. As we found in our Hiring Lab study on the jobs people do and don't want to leave, candidates are drawn to highly-paid roles with generous benefits, such as those in software development. 

This could look like setting clear boundaries for work time and home time, particularly if employees are working remotely. By being transparent about this, employees have a better understanding of when they have permission to log off at the end of a busy day. As we found, however, in our guide to tackling mental health stigma, work-life balance is just one tool to consider. Open discussion about mental health issues is crucial, too.

Going beyond mental health awareness

A UK survey by Nuffield Health in News Medical found that while mental health transparency is indeed increasing at work, it's still the case that only 1 in 4 people feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their employee. They suggest that since 48% of employees surveyed found that anxiety had impacted their work negatively, that businesses should become better equipped at recognising the signs of heightened emotion at work. 

Mind emphasises that creating a mental health strategy at work doesn't need to be expensive. Consider quiet rooms, providing accommodations, or even a mental health awareness course. One company leading the way here – according to Anderson Hoare – is Innocent Drinks, who offer free yoga, mental health aids, and a confidential employee assistance programme which is open 24 hours a day.

While mental health awareness has grown, employers are now catching up to the realities of managing stress and mental health in the workplace. With the right resources, business leaders can not only respond more effectively to employee mental health concerns, but their own. Going beyond mental health transparency towards actionable solutions and policies can help them to boost morale through crises and keep employees focused at work.