Why leadership is closely linked to mental health and well-being
Leadership highly impacts team member’s mental health. Research by the Harvard Business Review in 2021 has shown that employees under good leaders experience reduced stress levels and higher job satisfaction, which highly correlates with mental health. Contrarily, poor leadership can lead to burnout symptoms, decreased drive for work taks, and elevated levels of sick days.
According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 75% of workers consider their bosses to be source of anxiousness and stress. This indicates the importance and need for leadership that is aware of mental well-being practices to protect the employee's psyche.
Leaders need to be mindful of their team’s mental well-being
Effective leadership involves being vigilant to the mental health of team members. Recognizing symptoms of mental distress is essential in creating a supportive environment. This could e.g. be when an employee displays symptoms like:
- increased absences,
- being easily irritable,
- persistent low energy or motivation,
- reduced productivity,
- or becoming distant from colleagues (social withdrawal).
These symptoms are some of the most common ones that might indicate underlying challenges of mental well-being and work-related stress. By recognizing these characteristics, leaders can take proactive steps to address these potential worries.
How leaders can become a source of a positive impact on employee mental health
1. Empathy and emotional intelligence
Being empathetic is a quality that most people value, especially for leaders, it is a needed asset.
“One of the best things that you can do as a leader is take a listening tour. Before you form your own opinions, you must hear people out, whether that be in the form of town halls, engagement surveys or employee councils,” said Andrea Jung. She is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Grameen America, the fastest-growing microfinance organization in the United States and is the longest-serving female Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 company.
Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author, would agree with Jung. He states that leaders who demonstrate empathy and emotional intelligence are able to create a more engaged and resilient workforce. Their ability to understand and connect with their employees' feelings creates a sense of belonging and trust within the organization, where team members feel safe to flourish.
Empathetic leaders can create an atmosphere where open communication is encouraged, allowing employees to share their concerns without fear of judgment and potentially, before it is too late.
2. Engagement, communication and transparency
Transparency and open communication fosters trust within the organization, reducing uncertainty and therefore stress and anxiety among employees. Especially in these changing times, providing information is the most effective way to keeping emplyees up to date, instead of them having wandering thoughts of what might me happening and potentially creating worst-case scenarios.
A survey conducted by Gallup revealed that organizations with transparency, engagement and communicative leaders have significantly lower turnover rates and higher levels of employee engagement. In fact, low engagement teams typically endure turnover rates that are 18% to 43% higher than highly engaged teams.
3. Showing appreciation
Leaders who take time and show effort to recognize their team members’ hard work create a positive atmosphere, which encourages productivity and motivation. Feeling valued and appreciated at work is essential for employees' mental well-being, otherwise they can potentially question their efficacy.
Acknowledging the efforts and achievements of employees boosts their performance and feeling of contribution. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, recognition from supervisors is a crucial factor in reducing stress levels and improving mental well-being among employees.
Unfortunately, when things do not go the way it was planned (which is a natural process when creating innovation), this gets more attention as little or quick wins. Celebrating, thanking and appreciating employees at work regularly when things go right should become one of leaders’ priorities.
Leaders can lead by example by promoting a healthy dose of working hours and showing that personal life matters. Flexible work hours, remote work options, and encouraging the use of paid time off can significantly reduce employee burnout and stress levels. It is not about “work-life-balance, as “The problem with ‘balance’ is that it’s based on the idea that work and life, well-being and productivity, are on opposite sides. But, in fact, they’re on the same side, so they don't need to be balanced."- Arianna Huffington, founder of Thrive Global. When personal preferences are acknowledged by leaders as long as the work gets done, the more job satisfaction employees will exhibit.
5. Mental Health Support
Supporting employees' mental health isn't just the right thing to do, it is also good for business. Dr. Mark Attridge, psychologist and consultant, says that companies that prioritize mental health experience increased productivity and employee loyalty..
Offering employee assistance programs (EAPs) or digital mental health solutions, such as the service of Likeminded, and access to mental health professionals can provide tremendous support to individuals facing mental health challenges. EAPs have reduced absenteeism by nearly 70% in the US, according to the Human Resources Director Magazine.
Competence in leadership is not solely about guiding an organization towards success; it also involves fostering a culture that prioritizes mental health and well-being in order to generate results. Leaders who show positive qualities to promote mental well-being contribute significantly to the overall productivity of their teams. By recognizing and addressing symptoms of mental distress, showing empathy, and providing resources for mental health support, leaders can positively impact the lives of their employees and can count on their teams, just like they can count on their leaders.
When mental health is prioritized, a thriving and successful organization can maintain itself in the long run. As we move forward, let us remember that leadership goes beyond professional competence but, when choosing the correct leaders, creates a mentally healthy and prosperous workplace.