How managers can talk to their employees about mental health
Management has never been a simple or straight-forward role, but now that our world is in the middle of a national crisis, leading a team is more complex and requires you to be present for your team while managing your own anxiety.
As outlined in this article, being a young person in the professional world has changed drastically due to technology and the development of smartphones. No matter what generation you fall into, you’re feeling the pressure to always be connected and respond to emails and other messages at an increasingly rapid pace.
Now imagine being in your 20s and at the start of your career, trying to figure out how to balance work and life. It’s hard enough to find that balance in your 30s and 40s and beyond, but think about how tough it was when you were younger to set boundaries and stand up for yourself?
Understanding how the world of work has changed dramatically since you were in your 20s is just part of the equation. The other part is learning how to help your employees create boundaries and focus on their mental health.
The 2018 Employee Retention Report found there are 5 key factors as to why someone decides to leave a job and the #1 reason: how an employee feels about their manager. We don’t leave companies, we leave managers which is why your role in this young worker’s professional life is so critical. You have the power and influence, more than any other person at your organization, to determine if someone stays or leaves.
While it’s more common in today’s market to leave a job after only a year or two, an article in Business Insider reported the findings of a recent study conducted by Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics (published in the the Harvard Business Review) which found 75% of Generation Zers and 50% of Millennials have left a job because of mental health reasons.
Despite Millennials being called “The Therapy Generation,” studies are finding there has been a 47% rise in depression-related diagnosis for Millennials since 2013. As their manager you’re not required to also be their therapist, but it’s important for you to be aware of how prevalent mental health issues are for young people. If you want to develop your direct reports and retain them, you must also always take into account their mental health.
Take some time and investigate what your organization provides in terms of mental health support and have a list of resources available to your team. When someone is struggling with a mental health issue, they know they need help but can feel overwhelmed when trying to figure out how to start the process. Simply having the name and contact information for your EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or letting them know about a stipend available for health and wellness can make the difference between someone seeking help or doing nothing.
During your weekly or bi-weekly meetings with your direct reports, watch for non-verbal cues to indicate that someone is struggling with an issue. As you check in about various projects and get updates, make sure to ask open-ended questions regarding their workload and inquire if they need additional help or resources. Be mindful of your employees and if they take breaks or eat lunch at their desk.
Right now with COVID-19 preventing employees from being in the same room, it’s even more critical to be present and engaged during team meetings. Make sure to check in with all of your direct reports and don’t assume because younger workers don’t have kids, they’re not struggling with productivity and time management. This pandemic is affecting each of us in different ways and for someone who might live alone, your weekly video check-in might be the only contact they have that week.
The most important skill for any manager or leader is the ability to remain self-aware. Being a parent has taught me more about myself than any other role I’ve held in my life and I know that in order for my son to be happy and healthy, I also need to be happy and healthy. The same goes for you. As a manager, you have a lot on your plate and it’s important you always look at your behavior and how well you’re taking care of yourself.
Earlier I mentioned the scenario of the young worker wondering if he or she should respond to their boss’s email on a Saturday afternoon. Is that you sending that email on Saturdays? While you may have a good handle on your work/life balance and you reserve a few Saturdays a month to work on a project, you have to think about how that simple email impacts the recipient. Can you wait and send the email on Monday or at least attach a message that says, “Please do not read until Monday.”
While it may feel impossible to keep track of everyone you manage and the idea of adding focusing on mental health feels daunting, it doesn’t take much to make your employees feel seen and heard. There is a myth that employees always want big gestures, huge raises and bonuses and that is what will keep them happy and satisfied. Raises and bonuses are nice but what your direct reports really want is recognition for their good work and validation for how hard it is to be young in today’s working world.