Employees

Why Employees Need Leaders to Lead by Example

We bought mental health tools, but has everyone bought in? Many companies understand the importance of promoting mental health in the workplace. As a result, they have enacted programs and policies designed to put the well-being of their employees first. A recent MetLife survey found that at least 68% of respondents working at companies with more than 100 employees report having a wide range of programs designed to prevent mental health problems. 

To make the most significant impact, a sharper focus on support should become a key aspect of a company’s culture. But cultural values, and the effectiveness of any company initiative, can only be established with buy-in from all parts of the company – management especially. So now more than ever, employers seeking to improve employee mental health must first improve their understanding and involvement in mental health initiatives. 

This article will discuss the role managers play in employee well-being and how to lead by example. First, we’ll look at how employers can impact employees, both positively and negatively. Then we’ll examine how employers can maximize their positive impact as they lead by example.

Understand the Role Managers can Have on Employee Well-being

While most managers aim to support their employees, they may not be aware of how their managerial style can affect mental health. A 2020 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, & Health found that in workforces where leaders and managers whose “quality of leadership” has higher levels of traits perceived as fair, empowering, and supportive, employees have a lower risk of reporting mental distress. Similarly, teams that embody these same traits show a more “protective, prospective effect on employee mental health.” 

On the other hand, passive leadership predicts higher levels of role ambiguity, conflict, and overload – all of which lead to psychological work fatigue and have been shown to influence overall mental health negatively. 

Without a doubt, managers play a huge and direct role in the mental well-being of their employees. However, managers also play a more indirect role. The example they set for employees may increase – or inadvertently decrease – how likely they are to engage with mental health resources and initiatives. Employers that show little buy-in to health initiatives may unwittingly diminish the perceived importance of these programs, thereby limiting employee participation. The stigmas associated with mental health mean that many employees may not be initially willing to bring mental health conversations into their workplace. They may require the encouragement of their managers before they can do so. 

Support Your Employees and Lead by Example

HR professionals are acutely aware of leadership’s important role in bolstering workplace wellbeing. According to Unmind’s 2022 Mental Health Trends Report, 76% of HR professionals believe senior leadership needs to boost their well-being IQ. To drive real, long-lasting change, workplace leaders must work on supporting the policies they seek to implement. You can accomplish this by being seen modeling healthy behaviors, creating open channels of communication, and continuing to learn.

Model Healthy Behaviors

Modeling healthy behaviors can be one of the most effective ways to show your employees your commitment to mental health. Unfortunately, according to a recent MetLife survey, only 1 in 3 employees believed that their organizational leaders lead by example when it comes to mental health. This included sharing their difficulty with stress, burnout, depression, and other mental health problems. While it can be difficult to talk about personal mental health challenges, doing so is one of the best ways employers can continue to destigmatize mental wellbeing. 

Modeling healthy behaviors such as those described above, in conjunction with others such as establishing breaks, encouraging time off, and creating divisions between home and work can underscore leadership’s commitment to inclusivity and communication. Most importantly, doing so may give employees the push they need to open up about their issues, thereby allowing managers to help them or guide them to the resources they need. 

Create and Maintain Channels of Communication with Employees

Opening up about personal mental health is only one part of the solution. Managers must also strive to create and maintain open communication channels with their employees. This will help them feel comfortable sharing and ultimately resolving their challenges.

Encouraging discussion and openness is a critical component of supporting employees. But unfortunately, not everyone feels comfortable or has had a positive experience opening up.  A recent survey by Mind Share Partners found that less than 40% of employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health at work to other colleagues, their managers, and HR. Furthermore, only about half of the respondents (49%) described their experience as positive.

Managers must assure their employees that opening up about mental health will be met with support and care.. Letting them know that leadership is an ally in combating – rather than a contributing factor – to workplace stressors. The Mind Share report also found that employees who did feel supported by their employers were twice as likely to talk about their mental health at work. In addition, employees reported higher job satisfaction and were more likely to stay with their company. 

Keep Learning

Unfortunately, the ongoing shifts in workplace dynamics suggest that mental health in the workplace will only continue to garner importance. Despite this, most managers lack formal training on mental health issues, which means that even though employers might be willing to help and support employees, they may be unable to do so. 

Formal training sessions and making mental health support resources available to all levels of leadership will help employers deal with employee mental health more effectively. Training and support will also tell employees that their issues will be taken seriously.

In leading by example, employers are taking on a more dynamic and effective role in supporting employee wellbeing. While it may not always be easy, doing so is the best way to drive real change and create an open, healthy workplace where employees can thrive.