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Thom Dennis

Serenity in Leadership Ltd


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How leaders can support mental health

Over a third (36%) of workers believing that their organisations have done nothing to help stave off employee burnout. On Mental Health Awareness Week, Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in Leadership, urges leader to assess how they support their employees' mental health.
stack rock on seashore: mental health strategies for support

Mental health problems are being viewed by many as the next pandemic. 

One in five working adults (20%) need to take time off work due to poor mental health caused by pressure or stress in the past year. 

Worryingly, it is thought that 36% of workers believe that their organisations have done nothing to help stave off employee burnout. Mental Health Awareness Week is a timely prompt for leaders to assess how they are supporting their employee's mental health. 

The cost of stress

Being busy, working long hours and being in demand even when we are supposed to have downtime is no longer a badge of honour. 

According to NICE, there are 13.7 million working days lost annually in the UK as a result of work-related stress, anxiety and depression costing approximately £28.3 billion

Additionally, 91% of adults in the Burnout Report 2024 reported experiencing high or extreme levels of pressure or stress at some point in the past year and one in four said they felt unable to manage stress and pressure in their lives. 

So, what are the best strategies to tackle mental wellbeing support in the workplace?

One in five working adults ... need to take time off work due to poor mental health

1. Look at your ‘too challenging’ pile and work your way through

Look at what you’re not attending to that actually needs to be dealt with. Get back to what is the DNA of the business, the people. 

This may involve dealing with burnout, a culture associated with over-pressuring employees, poor leadership, a lack of inclusivity or a toxic environment at work.

2. Don’t set employees up to fail

Make objectives and targets achievable. People want to be surrounded by those who want them to succeed. 

Is the current workload sustainable or do your employees feel threatened and exhausted by improbable expectations? 

There are 13.7 million working days lost annually in the UK as a result of work-related stress, anxiety and depression

3. Be proactive but not tokenistic

Avoid tickbox, tokenistic attempts at mental health protocols. Understand you have a duty of care. Prioritise mental and physical health. 

Encourage employees to look after themselves and their families by making reasonable adjustments and showing genuine flexibility. for example reports that two-fifths of working mothers have turned down a promotion due to childcare pressures and only a third (31%) of working mothers have access to the flexible working arrangements that they need. 

4. Understand your team and what they want and need

What are your rates of absenteeism and presenteeism? Create and maintain real connections by regularly walking around the office and chatting with colleagues. 

Are your employees happy and smiling around the office or do they look drained and is the atmosphere tense? If you are in a hybrid situation, ensure that when people are in the office, they spend time interacting and collaborating rather than sending emails which they could be doing at home.

Good leadership means guiding employees and helping them develop and achieve. 

5. Make sure the team understands that words matter

Don’t lose sight of the weight and consequences of language and its capacity to build up and tear down in equal measure. 

Speaking appropriately and being considered before you talk can reduce conflict and hurt. Don't try shaping opinions to match yours.

Good leadership means guiding employees and helping them develop and achieve

6. Talk about the ‘elephants in the room’ to stop toxicity spreading

In their Toxic Work Environment Report of 2022, CareerPlug revealed that 72% of respondents have left a job because of a toxic workplace. 

We often see members of the C-Suite avoid calling things out bravely in the moment and taking positive action, and yet we also see when the courageous step is taken, and the ‘elephants in the room’ are named, the whole system breathes a sigh of relief. 

When poor behaviour is actively addressed, it sends a positive message which can be really positive for morale. Don’t let the problem become systemic because it will cost you so much more to deal with.

7. Bring your full self to interactions when someone is telling you their truth

Stop what you are doing when someone is talking to you, look at them and bring your full self to the interaction. 

In our Leadership Coaching Programme, our delegates explore the power of presence and it is remarkable the positive effects a simple action can have. 

Often when we are in trouble, we don’t want a solution, we just want someone to hear what we are thinking and feeling. 

Simply lending an ear can provide the necessary support, so that a person can feel empowered to tap into their own resources and find solutions whilst alleviating feelings of isolation.

Don’t let the problem become systemic

8. Be an advocate for good work/ health/ life boundaries

As part of work culture, work/life balance must be prioritised. Holidays and weekends should be uninterrupted and working excessive hours should not be part of the culture no matter what your salary. 

9. Don’t micro-manage, empower

Know what they need to thrive and don’t hyper micro-manage. Allow employees a routine that works for them.

Upskill them so they feel they are always learning and growing to avoid feeling stagnant. Let them know you trust them and equally they can trust you.

10. Look for tell-tale signs of poor mental health

When employees are dealing with personal and sensitive issues, they may be attending work mentally unfit. Look for signs of withdrawal, emotional distancing, loss of productivity and absenteeism. 

Deal with lack of inclusivity head-on. Offer collaborations to those you may suspect are suffering from loneliness. 

Allow employees a routine that works for them

11. Get talking about mental health

Whilst talking about and dealing with mental health issues has come on leaps and bounds we are not there yet. Offer training and talks about mental health on an annual basis. 

Check your and your organisation’s unconscious biases towards any kind of illness which isn’t clearly visible regularly. 

12. If someone is suffering, help if you can

Ensure privacy and offer flexibility in timing and location when talking with someone who is suffering from mental health challenges. Be reassuring, calm and patient. 

Foster open dialogue as part of work culture and designate mental health advocates trained to listen and guide colleagues toward support resources. If you believe an employee is at risk, gently encourage them to get further help.

You can read more from Thom Dennis here.

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