We know that leaders have a duty of care towards their teams and this is paramount to creating a safe, happy and productive working environment. With 1 in 4 people in Britain experiencing a mental health issue at some point in their lives, support for the workforce is key. External factors such as soaring energy costs and looming recession have the potential to exacerbate existing mental health issues and create additional strain on many people’s lives.
Of course leaders will be required to support employees and lead compassionately, however this responsibility may come with challenges to their own mental health and wellbeing. The pressure at the top can feel intense. Here are five tips for protecting your mental health as a leader.
Making yourself available to employees in your organisation is an important requirement for leaders. However, this does not mean being available unconditionally. An option is establishing ‘office hours’ (whether virtual or in-person) that you commit to each week. This creates allocated time for employees to come and speak with you when you have capacity to be most present in the discussion.
While supporting others is a core responsibility as a leader, allocating time for your own work and tasks should also remain a priority. Putting time in your calendar each week that is uninterrupted will help you remain on top of work, accompanied by designated intervals to rest and recharge. This will avoid overworking and burnout, and allow time to regroup after guiding others.
When overwhelmed by responsibility, breaks can begin to seem dispensable. When repeating the same activity continuously for over 90-120 minutes, we begin to lose our edge. Reducing breaks may seem like it will maximise output, but it will likely reduce quality of work and become mentally draining. Intentional breaks must be scheduled into each day and week to help recharge after intense cognitive tasks.
The same applies to holiday periods. While taking time away from the office, it is important to allow yourself time to withdraw from work without repeatedly checking emails. This should be seen as an investment into your next performance wave and sets an important example for the team around you.
Making time to see the people who are sources of happiness in life is imperative to wellbeing; it’s an act of self care. When so much time is spent supporting others at work, seeking support from those in your personal life will help ease the weight of the working week. Nurturing your personal relationships and allocating time to those who bring you joy will help build an energy reserve that enhances future performance. The investment into your own wellbeing will help you be present when supporting teams.
When leading others compassionately, it is important to offer ourselves the same compassion we show to others. Negative self-talk can stunt productivity and compromise emotional wellbeing. This must be addressed early on otherwise it can become overwhelming.
If you find yourself speaking to yourself in a critical voice, ask would I speak to others like this? Usually we find the answer is no, meaning we are not giving ourselves the same kindness we offer to others. We must challenge these thoughts to protect our mental wellbeing so we remain productive and confident in our ability to support others.
It is important to check in with yourself regularly, consistently monitoring your energy levels and emotional wellbeing. We must adopt the same proactive wellbeing approach when looking after ourselves as we do for our employees. Leaders should be familiar with spotting signs that employees are struggling with burnout or with low mental health, and must examine their own behaviours in the same way.
Overreactions or being short tempered with colleagues, for example, can be signs of burnout. Similarly, becoming withdrawn can be a sign of poor mental health. If you are able to spot this in others, it is crucial to spot the same signs in yourself. When noticing changes in your behaviour and reactions at work, follow the same steps you advise others to take; accessing mental health services, reaching out to loved ones for support and taking enough time to rest.