Workplace mental health: 5 ways to lead mentally healthy teams.


What does it mean to be mentally healthy?

We can keep this really simple; it means you feel good.

Think about a time you felt really good. For me it was very recently, over a long weekend. I was adventuring with my little family. We walked along a secluded little beach, unsuccessfully looking for sturgeon sunning their bellies, and more successfully looking for cool rocks. My mind was at ease, laughter came easy. I was amongst people I felt comfortable with, and I felt confident in my rock finding and fun having abilities.

Now, not every day is a walk on the beach. However, it is possible to experience these moments of ease in the workplace. When amongst colleagues we trust, when we are walking along a proverbial beach together with the same goals, that sounds like a mentally healthy environment.

Peace of mind prevents our minds from wandering, (or at least not as often) to an internal negative narrator or to compulsive worrying.

If any one of my family members tripped on the beach, one of us would have picked them up and dusted them off without hesitation. If I trip up at work and I am among trusted colleagues, I know we will also pick each other up when needed. Not only pick each other up but inspire each other to continue reaching for those goals — those cool rocks, together.

Lindsay and her husband cradle adorable baby goats. The family is smiling with joy during a photo session at Scapegoat Farm in Langley.

Mentally healthy, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.

To put it really simply, you just feel good and then you can do good. Sounds good, right?

How to lead with mental health in mind.

1. Lean into curiosity.

With the internet at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to learn from those who have a mental illness or are experiencing mental health challenges. As leaders, we don’t have to be mental health experts to identify when someone is struggling, and the more we learn the easier it will become to see the signs. When talking to someone who may be struggling with their mental health, remember we are not healthcare experts, but we can help the employee identify their stressors, make appropriate plans or changes at work, and, if appropriate, share resources for them to seek professional supports.

Conversations starters can sound like:

  • I’ve noticed…
  • I’m concerned.
  • What can I do?

The more psychologically safe an employee feels the more likely they are to share, leading to more effective collaborating on practical solutions together.

2. Listen and engage (in that order).

Bring the employee along the journey.

  • Listening: Be genuinely interested. Lean into curiosity. Ask open ended questions. Seek clarification during conversations to ensure understanding is correct, and confirm what the understanding is before moving on.
  • Engage employees when solutioning: This can be used for individuals and groups. A leader’s role is to ensure solutions will ultimately meet organizational objectives, and great leaders will remember that there are often different ways to get from point A to B. Employees become more invested in long-term outcomes when they are the ones participating in the development of those solutions.

3. The role of leadership.

Leaders should be able to adapt their communication style to the scenario and employee, while staying authentic. Having the ability to pivot when certain approaches are proving ineffective is a critical skill. It’s ok to admit when something isn’t working, in fact is it very human not to be perfect all the time. Admit it to yourself, and when needed to others, then move on with a new approach.

4. Lead by example.

Leaders, how do you assure you are mentally healthy?

Are you taking vacation days? Are you actually logging off, at least most of the time, at the end of your shift, or while you are on those vacation days? What are you doing to fill your cup? Show your team how to take care of themselves by taking care of yourself. This also shows them you trust them.

When you return from a great experience, whether it’s a vacation with your family or a registered massage utilizing your extended health benefits, make sure to share it with your colleagues! Celebrate self-care in the same way you would celebrate meeting company targets.

5. Celebrate successes.

Small things are often the big things. Recognition does not have to be difficult, time consuming, or complex.

Ask employees how they like to be celebrated and assure they are given space to intentionally recognize themselves. Get employees to be proud of their own work, as well as hear from their leader what they are doing well.

Here are some prevention strategies:

  • Open communication
  • Clear expectations
  • Transparency in decision making.
  • Encourage breaks – leaders too!
  • Reduce stigma. Read more about it here.

Encouraging support and collaboration on teams when it comes to mental wellness is important as well. Think about how your team can work together? Wellness Wednesday is an example of what some Vancity Branches are doing. They have different individuals plan a 15–30-minute activity to do together before the Branch opens. This could be meditation, going for a walk outside, yoga or a team game.

Another idea is roundtable discussions regarding workload, this helps increase understanding and collaboration.

The first step in leading mentally healthy teams will always be starting. Leaders, challenge yourself to try something. Share the learnings with other leaders, hold each other accountable. Remember, none of us are in this alone. Health is wealth and that absolutely includes mental health. You got this!

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you are not alone. Consider connecting with a doctor to discuss further, additionally there are a variety of mental health resources, and support groups, available in-person and online. Better days are ahead.  

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