How to Equip Leaders with Better Mental Health Awareness

There is increasing awareness and training in the education system on how to spot and support students of all ages with their mental health; from school children facing post-pandemic anxiety to university students struggling with their mental health.

At the same time, the pandemic has had a damaging impact on mental health for those at work.

It has never been more important for those in leadership positions to have strong mental health awareness and to become well equipped with tools and techniques to pass on to staff and students. 

In this article, we will outline some key ways that leaders can encourage a healthy wellbeing culture in the workplace and improve their mental health awareness. 

Set boundaries (and respect them)

The idea of a work/life balance is something that is often spoken about but can be hard to achieve. Feeling overwhelmed at work can impact mental health negatively, so leaders can look out for signs that employees may have an unbalanced work/life relationship. 

Fear of leaving on time being seen as not being a dedicated employee, constantly checking emails or messaging software out of work hours or even on holiday can contribute to stress and anxiety, as well as indicate that they are struggling to keep a healthy balance here. 

Sometimes overtime may happen around busy times, year-end or for specific projects. But, if you notice there is a culture of working late most days, it may be time to readdress the workload to make it more manageable. 

To combat this, managers and senior staff members can encourage a more balanced home and job ratio by ensuring that staff know there is no expectation to work outside contracted hours. Tackle time management issues, try working with a time tracking program to see what areas are taking longer, and where improvements could be made. 

Check-in with employees regularly regarding their workload and create an approachable atmosphere where asking for assistance is met amicably rather than in a hostile manner. Respecting boundaries can be achieved by avoiding emailing or messaging outside of work hours, and not contacting employees while they are on annual leave or sick. 

Taking regular breaks & full lunch hours 

A third of UK employees admit to not leaving their workplace after they arrive in the morning. That, in turn, probably means that they aren’t taking their full lunch break, and often eat lunch at their desks, or not at all. 

Stress can often impact appetite, so making sure that people are eating healthy, regular meals is a good indication of their stress levels and workload. Having cooking facilities, places to store and prepare food, such as refrigerators and microwaves, and a nice place to eat away from the desk will also allow staff to make and enjoy lunch. 

However, it is also important to encourage staff not only to take their full lunch break, but also to spend some of this time outside where possible. There are many benefits to spending time outside and in nature and it has a positive impact on mental health. Spending time outside is a good mood booster and can really reduce stress. 

If you notice staff are not leaving their desk, this could indicate they are feeling overworked and like they do not have enough time to take their entitled break. Ensure that you encourage them to step away from their desk, or even suggest walking together to a local coffee shop, or a nearby public park, just to get outside.  

Benefits that focus on wellbeing 

Often, employee benefits include gym memberships. Some workplaces even have on-site fitness centres. Looking after your physical health and keeping active can release endorphins and in turn improve mental health. However, exploring benefits that prioritise mental health and wellbeing is as important as when considering employee benefits.

While perks like gym passes or free lunch on Fridays do help overall wellbeing, including subscriptions to apps like Headspace can help to give staff the tools for mindfulness, meditation and mental health management. 

Look at therapy or counselling options that are included within private health care offerings, and make sure that staff know that these services are available to them. Ask employees what would support them and what benefits would really help them. 

By putting the same emphasis and importance on mental health as there is on physical health, leaders can emphasise the importance of wellbeing and also make mental health awareness a priority.  

Training workshops and company policies 

Though still a relatively new concept, it could be worth considering holding mental health awareness workshops that provide companies with the tools to identify stressors and signs of stress in business. 

This should be a regular workshop, and information shared with all new starters in the onboarding process. Signposting employees or students to worksheets and resources from the training will mean the message is clear and they are aware of the company policies and practices regarding mental health. 

Check if the business has a mental health day policy. If they don’t, flag this with HR so it can be added. Once added make sure it is shared with all people in the business. Similarly, by updating the company mental health day policy,  people are more likely to feel supported if and when they are requesting them. 

Offering flexible working options, like the ability to work from home if required or requested could impact mental health in a positive way. This again contributes to a healthy work/life balance and allows employees to consider their mental wellbeing within their weekly schedule while still being productive. 

Adapting company policies regarding mental wellbeing and flexibility can tackle out-dated ideas surrounding sick days and the traditional 9-5 working day structure, which can ultimately improve potentially toxic workplace culture that promotes overworking.  

Final thoughts

Equipping leaders with better mental health awareness encompasses all levels of a business, and its impact can be as widespread. Leaders can help to create an open dialogue around mental health and wellbeing and ensure that this is reflected in company policies and employee benefits.  

Above all, it is important for leaders to lead by example. If staff and students see managers and seniors practicing what they preach, it will encourage them to do the same. Taking regular breaks, getting outside, and encouraging mental health days combined with regular company-wide mental health and wellbeing workshops will promote a culture that prioritises a happy and healthy workplace.