“Leadership is not about being in charge. It’s about taking care of those in your charge.” Simon Sinek

A pre-Covid study in the US suggested that 21% of workers experienced a mental health disorder in the last year, and 60% said their illness was related to work stress. In the UK, Mind (2017) found that 48% of workers had experienced poor mental health in their current job. In Australia, work-related stress accounted for 44% of all work-related mental health conditions in 2018 (ABS, 2019).

Another critical point is that the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions have compounded a significant issue for leaders and organisations. In Australia, 46% of people surveyed said they had been adversely affected by the pandemic (ABS, 2020). This suggests that as people continue to return to in-person work, they may be doing so with new or emerging mental ill-health issues that organisations are neither aware of nor prepared for.

The team’s mental health is often delegated to the HR and occupational health teams, which undoubtedly play a crucial role in providing professional support, training and resources. However, this is only part of the story. Leaders also play a pivotal role in their people’s care, well-being, and mental health, obviously within the boundaries of their expertise and training. Being the closest touchpoint to the team, they can more readily identify potential concerns, provide relevant emotional support and be a means of referral to appropriate internal and external professionals. Although the statistics can paint a gloomy picture, there is cause for hope and a way forward for leaders.

The research supports this point in that leaders who provide emotional support and create a positive work environment are associated with lower team stress and anxiety levels (Kim et al., 2020). A recent meta-analysis also showed that a strong relationship orientation and high-quality leader-follower interaction levels are positively related to better employee mental health outcomes (Montano et al., 2017).

Five strategies that provide a great starting point for any leader include:

  • Promote work-life balance: Behaviours like consistently working back late, working every weekend, or an unwillingness to take holidays shouldn’t be seen as heroic but as something that needs to be addressed. Encourage your team members to take breaks and prioritise self-care. This can include flexible working hours, remote work options, regular offline holidays, and the provision of mental health resources (Quintana et al., 2019).
  • Foster a supportive work culture and environment: Create a work environment where team members feel safe, supported and free to discuss mental health concerns and seek help without fear of stigma or discrimination. This can be achieved by offering mental health training for managers and employees, providing mental health resources and support groups, and promoting open and honest communication (Rasool et al., 2021).
  • Encourage social connections: Loneliness and social isolation can have a detrimental effect on mental health. Encourage team members to connect and build meaningful relationships. This can be achieved through team building activities, social events, and creating a supportive and inclusive work culture. (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2021).
  • Recognise and reward achievements: Celebrating team members’ accomplishments can boost morale and improve mental health. This can be achieved by offering appropriate compensation, incentives, and recognition programs and providing positive feedback (Grawitch et al., 2006).
  • Provide resources and support: Offer mental health resources such as counselling, therapy, and mental health days. Encourage team members to take time off when needed and provide in-house and referral support for struggling team members (World Health Organization, 2019).

Finally, there are some fantastic organisations out there that provide advice and support if you or anyone you know is in need.

Beyond Blue – is an organisation focused on supporting people with anxiety, depression, and suicide prevention. They offer phone and web chat support and resources and information on their website.

Lifeline – a crisis support and suicide prevention organisation that offers a 24/7 phone line, as well as online chat support and resources.

Headspace – an organisation that provides support and resources for young people (12-25) suffering from mental health issues. They offer phone and online support, as well as face-to-face counselling.

Black Dog Institute – a research organisation focused on mental health that offers professionals support and training. They offer online information and have a telephone and email support service.