6 Ways for Leaders to Support Your Team’s Emotional Health

September 2020
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If you asked any of us back in February to describe what our spring and summer months would look like, the terms “national emergency,” “lockdown” and “shelter-in-place” would almost certainly not have been mentioned, nor would uttering “unprecedented times” over and over in conversations with clients and colleagues.

These now-common phrases — along with others, such as “dumpster fire” — are a reminder that we are far away from any semblance of normalcy as we knew it back in February. And the return to normalcy isn’t coming anytime soon. We will be living and working in an altered state for the foreseeable future.

As we continue to work from home during these, yes, “unprecedented times,” we are carrying big burdens in the shadow of uncertainty. In our small agency family, we have colleagues facing tough personal challenges such as caring for immunosuppressed relatives, bracing for what a return-to-school will look like if it’s completely virtual, worrying about a six-month-old baby who had to be tested for COVID-19 after a caregiver tested positive or traveling to Utah from Ohio to bury a mother. 

We know our agency isn’t an exception; no doubt most every company is in the same boat with equally difficult situations. Just about everyone is struggling with the stress and pressures. But how do you know when the struggle is too much for your team? And how can you recognize when people need support as we continue to work apart?

It’s not an easy endeavor, but here are six steps you can take to understand and support your team’s emotional health:

1. Host virtual breakfast chats.

One of our partners schedules a Zoom breakfast with team members. Each person orders an indulgent breakfast via Uber (at the agency’s expense) and a one-hour, no-agenda check-in transpires. The candid discussions often reveal how a team member is truly feeling and what leadership can do to help.

2. Encourage mental health breaks.

What we’ve learned during the WFH period is that people need flexibility. There’s no longer a clear line between work life and personal life — it’s blended. Back-to-back video calls can be exhausting, so our team knows it’s OK to do what they need to do to clear their head — and sometimes that means taking their dog on a midday hike. Emphasizing and encouraging breaks helps your team know that you prioritize their well-being. We’ve also encouraged employees to take a mental health day (a no-strings day off) for their emotional sanity. 

3. Overshare during agency updates.

We have always shared financial updates with our team — and that includes the good and the bad. During the WFH period, your team likely craves information more than ever, so try to provide frequent updates even if you don’t have all the answers or can’t be as precise as you would like. It will go a long way to calm team members who may be anxious. Commit to sharing regular updates and frequently invite questions in a group setting or individually. 

4. Prioritize mental health benefits.

Open enrollment for insurance happens soon. Now would be a good time to talk with your broker about what additional mental health benefits you can offer employees for the upcoming year. Ask your team what her or his interest is in such benefits through an anonymous survey, or encourage them to talk directly to your benefits consultant. Finally, remind your team of the mental health resources that are currently available — post an updated list where it can be easily accessed — and encourage them to seek professional help if they need it.

5. Foster open, empathetic dialogue.

Our culture has always fostered an environment of open communication and we prioritize compassion in the workplace — and hire leaders who embrace these values. Our team knows that they can go to leadership when they are having an issue with a client as well as with personal struggles they are comfortable sharing. Open communication has helped us spot when employees are struggling so we can then engage in some appropriate dialogue. 

6. Ask questions, but in a different way.

Asking employees what’s working or not working for them is essential to providing the right support they need, especially as WFH progresses. Consider asking questions in a different way to connect with your team. Questions can be shared in a round-robin fashion. For example, something I’m working on… something I’m excited about… something I wouldn’t normally share with you… something that keeps me up at night… Responses provide a glimpse into how a person is truly feeling and allow you to intervene with support. (Shout-out to Leadership Coach Sarah Singer Nourie for the helpful prompts.) 

What have you discovered helps your employees during these unprecedented times? Drop me a line at bcastellini@wordsworthweb.com.

Return to Current Issue The Tech & Social Issue | September 2020
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