Talking about mental health can feel tricky at best and terrifying at worst, however. And it becomes a vicious cycle — the fewer people talk about it at work (even when they know they and others are struggling), the more the stigma grows. To break this cycle, you have to address the issue proactively, strategically, and thoughtfully. After all, the way we talk to others who are dealing with burnout (and to ourselves) has a major impact on how we feel.
Managers have a responsibility to their team to create an open, inclusive, and safe environment that allows them to speak up.
In a study by mental health charity Time to Change, 60% of people said that when it comes to mental health, stigma and discrimination are just as, if not more damaging than the symptoms of their mental health problem and 54% percent of people said that they’re impacted most by stigma in their workplace.
As much as we’d like it to not be the case, there’s no magic spell to make people feel comfortable enough to talk about mental wellbeing at work. But in the meantime, there are plenty of things that you can do to create a safe, accepting, welcoming space for the conversation around mental health. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling…
Ask your team to gather around and get comfy—things are going to change (in a good way). One of the best ways to get people talking about mental health is to start the conversation. Take this as an opportunity to announce that—as a company—you will be putting processes and tools in place to prioritize mental health and would also love to hear some ideas. Your team can either give feedback straight away, submit it anonymously or even speak to a designated person in your senior team.
Studies have shown that people want their employers to talk about mental health—and as the Harvard Business Review says, “it starts with transforming leaders into allies.” For managers, this means leading by example—sharing your experiences, taking mental health sick days, tracking your mental well-being and sharing actions to improve with your team, and actively supporting your team when they need it most. Your actions could be precisely what your other team members need to speak openly about their own experiences.
Before you take any action, take the time to understand the root cause of your team’s burnout. There are many potential contributing factors: a heavy workload, lack of leadership, no clarity around roles or expectations, and lack of recognition are common work-related causes of burnout.
Compassion and empathy are useful tools for the workplace – especially when dealing with issues like burnout. There may be times you get frustrated with your team, or they get frustrated with you as you overcome this obstacle together. This is totally normal, so remind yourself to view the situation through a compassionate and empathetic lens. This will make it easier to get through the challenging times together. Below are ideas for how to demonstrate compassion and empathy:
Don’t take it personally. It may be tempting to view your team’s burnout as a personal failing, but that’s not the case. At the end of the day, many factors can lead to burnout – no matter how hard you try to prevent it. So when practicing empathy and compassion on your team, make sure you’re applying it inwardly, as well.
Think about what’s best for the team. A useful way to practice empathy is to ask yourself: what’s best for the team? The answer may vary by individual. What’s best for some employees is to take a vacation or personal leave and unplug for a bit. Others might need to clarify work priorities or have something taken off their plate.