Leaders Supporting Mental Health

As employers, it’ no secret that we have an obligation to ensure our team’s health and safety. This includes supporting their mental health. But it’s important to go one step further than that: we shouldn’t just make their wellbeing a duty. We need to make it a priority.

If someone has a broken leg, we provide weight-bearing stools. If someone has medical issues, we allow specialist appointments. If someone has eyesight problems, we might get an occupational worksite assessment.  We do these things as employers to support.

So, why is mental health still a stigmatised issue?

Often as employers, we hear the words ‘mental health’, and we feel worried that we don’t know how to support our team, or we don’t feel equipped.

There’s a misconception that to have effective health and safety measures in the workplace that we need to invest thousands of dollars in expensive HR/H&S tools. But it doesn’t need to be hard or complicated.

Sometimes the most effective tool is to give our time as leaders.

It can be as simple as having frequent and consistent 1-2-1s with team members.

  • Creating a culture of wellbeing, providing a safe, private place to speak.
  • Permitting team members to be honest and open with us.
  • Honouring their privacy and confidentiality and asking the most basic question:
    • “How are you? Are you ok?” and if it’s appropriate to do so, going one step further:
    • “How are you really?”.

People may not want to speak for a number of reasons, and that needs to be honoured – there’s a difference between probing and caring. But working at it, building their trust, giving them that important safe space, making it part of our leadership practice, will stand us in good stead that one day, they might just feel safe enough to say that they’re actually not ok.

If it’s identified that they’re struggling. Asking another basic question:

  • “What can I/we do to support you?”
  • And allowing them to have voice/agency in identifying if they need support.

It may be a simple fix. The open, honest and safe 1-2-1 may have taken the weight off their shoulders for that day.

It may be something more significant that they need: a day off, help in referring to a specialist, a flexi-work plan, urgent crises assessment.

But knowing what can be done, and where help can be given, will help carve the next steps.

Every person we work with is unique. Their journeys are different. A blanket policy/tool/system can not be used as a “one size fits all”.

We need to ask them what support they need, and we need to be willing to sit there and really listen.

See your team, hear your team, let them speak. But above all, let them know you care for them, and that their mental health and wellbeing isn’t just a duty, it’s a priority.