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A Mental Health Toolkit for Direct Managers

A toolkit with various mental health resources and icons representing support, communication, and well-being
Hacking HR Team

Posted on January 04, 2024

The role of a direct manager and its impact on people and teams is extraordinarily understated and significantly important and relevant.

Direct managers and their relationships with the people and teams they lead are the real, on-the-ground, organic, everyday expression of an organization's culture. There cannot be a great culture if it is not embodied by direct managers and felt in how people treat each other.

An organization that claims to care for people’s mental health and well-being but doesn’t focus on how managers impact their people is missing a critical component. Leaders, particularly direct managers, can break or lift people down. With their actions, behaviors, words, and, in general, with their leadership and managerial style, direct managers have an exceptional opportunity to truly elevate the human condition at work and care for their people's (and their own) mental health and well-being. Or the opposite: to break it.

Certainly, the main responsibility of a direct manager is to get the job done. But the traditional view holds that to get things done, they only have to focus on “business” and “work.” However, the human view (founded in science, data, and, well, humanity) argues that to get things done, direct managers have to create the conditions for a people-centric team culture to emerge and thrive. Said culture keeps people’s mental health and well-being at the center of attention. Therefore, getting things done is possible when direct managers ultimately care for their people (including themselves).

Why Care About Mental Health?

Besides being THE most important avenue to get their job done (which, again, I understand is the primary responsibility of a direct manager), why should direct managers care deeply about mental health in the workplace?

It's not just a matter of ticking boxes or following trends. Here's why:

Impact on People and Teams

Imagine a team member struggling with anxiety or depression. Their performance might suffer, with missed deadlines and errors becoming more frequent. However, we often witness remarkable transformations when we support their mental well-being. Their productivity soars, their creativity flourishes, and they become valuable assets to the team.

Consider the issue of retention. Employees who feel supported in their mental health are likelier to stay with their employers. High turnover can be costly and disruptive to teams. It's not just about retaining talent; it's about nurturing it.

Team morale is another key factor. A team with good mental health is more likely to have high morale, collaborate effectively, and create a positive workplace culture. People are more likely to lend a hand, share ideas, and support one another when they feel their best.

Impact on Themselves

Direct managers are not immune to the effects of workplace stress. They often bear the brunt of it. But when they prioritize our mental health, something incredible happens. They also become better leaders. They can connect with their people not only at work but at a human level. They are healthy and know the effects of their overall well-being on their performance. And hopefully, they will try to do the same for their people and teams.

First, there's leadership by example. When direct managers openly discuss mental health and prioritize self-care, they send a powerful message to their employees. They show them that it's okay to seek help when needed, fostering a culture of openness and support.

Then, there's stress management. Managing a team can be inherently stressful, and how direct managers handle that stress matters. Prioritizing their own mental well-being equips them with the tools to cope with these pressures effectively. It makes them more resilient leaders, able to navigate challenges with grace and empathy.

Finally, there's the crucial aspect of work-life connection, integration, and balance. When direct managers demonstrate healthy work-life integration and practice self-care, they model these behaviors for their team members. In that way, they set a precedent for a healthier approach to work, where people can thrive both professionally and personally.

In short, it is not a luxury or a distraction from getting things done when direct managers focus on their people and team's mental health and well-being. It is a necessity to humanize work and also get better results with more effectiveness, higher productivity, and better performance. Direct managers have a unique opportunity and responsibility to impact the well-being of their team members and themselves positively.

How Direct Managers Support Their People and Team Mental Health and Well-being

Here, I included a (non-exhaustive) list of recommendations for direct managers to support the well-being of their team members:

  1. Open Communication: Foster a culture of open communication where team members feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns. In particular, open communication about mental health is a powerful tool to destigmatize mental health.

  2. Active Listening: Practice active listening when team members share their feelings or concerns without judgment or interruption. Proactive listening is listening to understand, not to react or respond. When people express themselves, they want to feel heard, seen and understood. This doesn’t mean they always want to be helped, and as a direct manager, you will need to learn to identify when people want one thing or both.

  3. Empathy: Show empathy, kindness, compassion, and understanding towards your team members' struggles and challenges.

  4. Work-Life: Encourage work-life integration by respecting boundaries. This means that you have to support people in establishing their boundaries and ensuring that everyone respects them.

  5. Regular Check-Ins: Conduct regular one-on-one check-ins with team members to discuss their workload, challenges, and well-being.

  6. Resources: Share information about available mental health resources, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) and counseling services.

  7. Stress Management: Make resources available about stress management techniques and promote their use within the team.

  8. Clear Expectations: Set clear expectations for roles and responsibilities to reduce uncertainty and stress.

  9. Recognition and Feedback: Recognize and appreciate the team's efforts and provide constructive feedback rather than criticism.

  10. Promote Team Bonding: Create opportunities for team members to bond and socialize outside work tasks.

  11. De-stigmatize Mental Health: Talk openly about mental health to reduce stigma and make it easier for team members to seek help.

  12. Personal Growth: Support team members' professional and personal growth, which can contribute to improved mental health.

  13. Recognize Warning Signs: Be vigilant for signs of burnout or mental health decline in team members and take appropriate action.

  14. Lead by Example: Show that you prioritize your mental health and work-life balance, setting a positive example for your team.

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