During tough or challenging times, it’s important for companies to prioritise not only the physical health and safety of employees but also their mental health. The actions, words and support of leaders within any organisation become paramount when helping employees get through the crisis and maintain good mental health throughout.

Resilient, healthy employees are more productive, positive members of the workforce - and a key to recovering from economic challenges. With this in mind, leaders should focus on building up the resilience of employees, prioritising mental health of their teams and encouraging healthy behaviours in the long term.

Resilience, like any other trait, can be developed with the right tools, coaches and training. Resilient employees are more likely to have better mental health, which leads to superior outcomes for both the company and the professional. When addressing the needs of employees during this, or any other challenging situation, make sure that mental health is prioritised alongside physical health.

Here are five tips from Azran Osman-Rani, CEO of Naluri in a recent Michael Page webinar on Harnessing Mental Resilience as leaders. These five pieces of advice should be taken up by leaders working to help their team find resilience through adversity.

1. Mentor and coach employees to succeed

Leaders should take on the role of a mentor or coach to help employees succeed and navigate their way through tough times. As Osman-Rani said, “In general, we are three times as likely to succeed with a coach guiding us along. Create a safe space for your team to share issues and motivations. Identify problems, give feedback and solutions and set goals.”

Use short sprints to get regular feedback on what’s working and what’s not, and remember that open communication is key. In a situation like COVID-19, where employees are working from home, and less likely to be engaged, taking on a mentorship role within your team can make a huge difference. As a mentor, you can make regular check-ins, encourage the team and get to the root of any problems before they become too big to handle.

2. Use stress (the good kind) to improve performance

Stress can help improve performance, as long as it is positive stress, also known as eustress. Leaders can create this positive stress through work assignments that are neither too simple, nor too challenging to attain. Taking on these assignments helps employees affirm their abilities and gives them the confidence to face the next task.

It’s important to give employees the tools to deal with these projects or assignments beforehand, equipping them to succeed, as Osman-Rani said, “Be mindful though that they will need to know how to channel eustress into positive outcomes, so equip them with the right tools and skills.” Done right, eustress can encourage feelings of satisfaction, fulfilment and excitement, contributing to overall wellbeing and good mental health.

3. Develop crisis leadership traits

There are several traits and soft skills that you can develop as a leader that will help you lead through a crisis. They include being curious, composed and facing problems with endurance.

  • Curiosity helps leaders to think of new possibilities to solve problems. Be conscious of your biases and avoid thinking only about past successes.
  • Being able to maintain composure allows you to evaluate tough situations objectively and find the right solution for everyone involved. A composed leader is ready for action and able to take decisive steps to lead through the crisis, eliminating uncertainty for the team you are leading.
  • Finally, endurance as a leader is essential, as situations such as COVID-19 and other challenges usually have a long timeline. As Osman-Rani said, “The challenging environment is likely to last for a while. It is crucial that you have the stamina to make it through, leading by example.”

4. Use language mindfully

Communicate in the right way. The words and language that leaders use now is more important than many realise. Simply choosing to use certain words, or phrase directives in a different way can either relieve stress or make it more acute. Using the right language can also foster a sense of teamwork and being in it together, allowing professionals to feel supported in the work they are doing.

For example, use “how” language instead of “why”. Why statements tend to come across as accusatory and demoralising as if the blame is being placed on the team. Asking questions such as “How can we prevent this from happening again?” encourages an empathetic and collaborative approach to problem-solving.

5. Destigmatise mental health

While many organisations are adapting, programs and structures to support mental health are not yet ubiquitous in the workplace. In our webinar, we surveyed 200 business leaders on whether or not their organisation had a structured employee program in place to address mental health and resilience. Of those who responded, only 31% currently had one in place, while 9% were in the process of developing one.

As leaders, make it a point to endorse and reinforce the importance of an integrated health program that also encompasses mental health. Remind your employees that such programs are anonymous and use digital tools to ensure that services can be accessed at their own convenience.

While professionals don’t hesitate to go to a doctor when they have a physical ailment, the same isn’t true for mental health issues yet. Taking small actions to remove the stigma of seeking help when needed can result in a healthier, happier workforce.

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