May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a perfect time to talk about one of the biggest factors in employee mental health: relationships with direct supervisors and managers.
We know from a 2020 McKinsey study that this relationship is critical to job satisfaction. In fact, a January 2022 MIT Sloan Management Review article titled “Toxic Culture Is Driving the Great Resignation” cited toxic culture as the No. 1 predictor for employee resignations.
Toxic work environments don’t just happen on their own. They’re fostered by toxic policies, procedures, and leaders—all of which can have a negative impact on employees.
Mental Health America’s “Mind the Workplace 2021 Report” found that most employees are already experiencing burnout and aren’t receiving the support they need. The resulting stress is severely impacting employees' mental health.
So, what can companies do to combat and reverse this trend?
It starts with training management teams to serve as support structures for employee mental health and well-being. For inspiration, consider some managers who are prominently and publicly modeling the type of behavior that fosters healthy work environments.
In a tweet thread published in April 2022, one manager created a manifesto-of-sorts that laid out how he planned to manage his team. (We’ll post the contents further down, so keep reading.)
To say this manager’s proclamation was received well by his Twitter followers is an understatement. To quote one TikToker who said each promise is a “green flag”:
“I know the bar is low, so these [promises] are absolutely shocking. But I just feel like they should be baseline.”
This thread also provides tangible examples of what supporting employee well-being looks like for managers.
Let’s examine it further.
How Managers Can Support Employee Mental Health in 11 Tweets
In the following tweet thread, Matthew Rechs shares his 11 promises as a manager to his employees to build psychological safety and trust with his team. It can also serve as a jumping point for any manager to determine how they can create a work environment that is safe, productive, and collaborative.
Value Your Employee’s Time
➡️ Promise No. 1: “We’ll have a weekly 1:1. I’ll never cancel this meeting, but you can cancel it whenever you like. It’s your time.”
We’ve all heard the joke about the meeting that should’ve been an email. With the pandemic, it became abundantly clear exactly how many of the meetings that had previously been mandatory could’ve easily been done via email.
Now that employees are back in the office, in hybrid working environments, or still working remotely, it’s critical that managers consider each employee’s time and make sure that the meetings they schedule are worthwhile—and that they aren’t canceled at the last minute.
People’s time is valuable. Show employees you understand that.
Talk Less, Listen More
➡️ Promise No. 2: “Our 1:1 agenda will be in the meeting invite so we remember important topics. But you’re always free to use the time for whatever’s on your mind.”
Great managers must master the art of listening. Sure, they want to inspire and motivate, but they need to listen first.
Employees who know their managers will actively listen and help them work toward personal success will naturally become motivated and inspired to succeed.
➡️ Promise No. 3: “When I schedule a meeting with you, I’ll always say *when I schedule it* what it’s meant to be about. I will not schedule meetings without an agenda.”
Mystery meetings don’t do your company any favors. From a purely practical viewpoint, a lack of agenda makes it impossible for employees to prepare for meetings, leading to wasted time and non-answers consisting mainly of, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
From a mental health perspective, agendaless meetings create pointless stress and strain on employees. Few people enjoy the feeling of being completely unprepared and not knowing what they’re walking into, so be transparent and let your employees know what to expect.
Create a Safe Space
➡️ Promise No. 4: “When I drop into your DM’s, I’ll always say “hi and why.” No suspense, no small talk while you are wondering what I want.”
Anyone can tell you the phrase “We need to talk” immediately leads to a spike in heart rate. A mysterious “Hey” Slack from your manager—only to be followed by long minutes of radio silence—is the workplace equivalent of those words.
Within the current discussion around workplace mental health issues, it’s well-established that employees are under stress and burned out. So why add needless anxiety by being vague?
Treat Employees Like Insiders
➡️ Promise No. 5: “News or announcements that significantly impact you, your work, or your team will come from me directly in a 1:1, not revealed in a big meeting.”
Too often, managers keep impactful news from their employees, whether it’s to protect them or to protect their own egos. Either way, this can cause employees to feel like outsiders, which could be a gateway to them leaving their companies.
Managers need to make sure their employees feel included and part of the team.
Provide clear, actionable feedback
➡️ Promise No. 6: “You’ll get feedback from me when it’s fresh. There will be no feedback in your performance review that you’re hearing for the first time.”
Giving feedback can be challenging. Managers have to take into account their employees’ personalities, sensitivities to criticism, and communication styles.
There are a few best practices, though. Managers need to make feedback clear, honest, constructive, and actionable. That way, employees shouldn’t fear feedback but welcome it as a path to success—especially for remote teams.
However, don’t take too long crafting your feedback, and don’t spring it all on an employee at their annual review. Feedback is most impactful when it’s constructive and timely.
Empower Employees to Manage Themselves
➡️ Promise No. 7: “I trust you to manage your own time. You don’t need to clear with me in advance your time AFK or OOO.”
Instead of micromanaging, managers should focus on helping their employees develop the skills and habits they need to produce results. Even more importantly, managers need to trust that their employees will finish their work on time without constant badgering.
However, that doesn’t eliminate accountability. “Autonomy without accountability doesn't work,” says Aaron Levy, Founder and CEO of Raise the Bar. “Managers have to find a balance.”
The key is to communicate with employees and figure out a win-win arrangement that’s flexible and keeps your business moving.
Trust That Your Employees Sometimes Know Better Than You Do
➡️ Promise No. 8: “Your work gets done your way. My focus is on outcomes, not output. Once we’re clear on where we need to go, how to get there is up to you. If I ever find it necessary to suggest a specific approach, I will supply an example.”
Focusing on how things are done has the potential to transform your efficiency, but a top-down approach can demoralize longtime staff who know how to do their specific jobs from every possible angle.
Again, this is where a collaborative approach and good communication can help your business get the best of all worlds.
Empower your teams by asking questions, relying on their expertise, and integrating it into internal best practices. This takes courage (managers may worry about appearing uninformed), but it creates an environment of trust, mutual respect, and collaboration, which are all essential ingredients for an emotionally healthy workplace.
Encourage Support and Teamwork
➡️ Promise No. 9: “A team is strongest when it’s working together, looking after one another, and taking care of each other. Please look to your left and to your right for opportunities to help your colleagues. Please ask for help when you need it. Nobody works alone.”
Inclusion is critical to employee mental health. Gartner Managing Vice President Lauren Romansky points out in "3 Ways to Build a Sense of Belonging in the Workplace" that employees who are truly included see their company as one that cares for them as individuals and their authentic selves.
Employees who feel they belong tend to be more engaged, productive, and satisfied with their work. And that can translate into tangible bottom-line benefits.
Assume Your Employees Have Good Intentions
➡️ Promise No. 10: “I trust you to skip level and talk to my manager or other senior management about anything you feel is relevant. You don’t need to clear it with me, and I’m not going to get weird about it when you do.”
A recent Harvard Business Review article highlighted how easy it is for managers to miss that employees are holding back information, especially when they disagree with each other. That lack of authenticity can create more stress and anxiety, eroding employee well-being.
That’s why it’s so important for managers to encourage a free exchange of ideas, concerns, and questions from their staff. If employees are reprimanded or discouraged from sharing constructive ideas, asking questions, or pushing back with concerns, don’t be surprised if they begin to disengage.
Give Credit Where It’s Due
➡️ Promise No. 11: “I will attribute credit appropriately to you and your team. I will never exaggerate my own role or minimize your contribution. I’ll be especially certain to nail down attribution when senior management are hearing of our accomplishments.”
Last, but certainly not least, is a reminder to managers that they need to acknowledge employees for their contributions. When employees shine, they tend to feel more empowered and motivated. And as a result, their managers shine as well.
Connect Employees With the Right Resources
In addition to all the great ideas discussed in Matthew Rechs’ tweet, managers have another role: knowing about and helping employees access additional mental health resources as needed.
Make sure employees are aware of community organizations, spiritual leaders, and even employee groups that can help prevent a small issue from becoming a crisis.
Examples of these resources may include the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide hotlines, PTSD resources, and other agencies or institutions that can be helpful to employees. Integrative behavioral health models can also be helpful for companies looking to offer additional resources.
This type of connection-building is central to Dr. Jean Baker Miller’s work in relational-cultural theory (RCT), which examines how culture impacts a person’s growth and relationships throughout their lifespan. In our May webinar, Dr. Ann Griepp will discuss how this theory can help empower teams through times of adversity.
Managers should encourage employees to lean on each other and recognize when someone needs help. Make sure managers are trained to provide support and spot potential mental health issues.
One way to do this is by building a psychologically safe workplace and looking out for warning signs of distress. These can include:
- Behavior changes such as a sudden change in appearance. An employee who starts to come to work in a disheveled state or experiences major weight fluctuations may be showing signs of an issue.
- Verbal signs include statements like “I feel like I’m drowning” or “They’ll be sorry.” These statements aren’t necessarily dramatic but can still be a cry for help.
- Overreaction to comments made by management or team members can be a signal that an employee is struggling emotionally and/or psychologically.
Managers may also want to consider the Stress First Aid self-care and peer support model to assess stress and determine if intervention is necessary. The model is based on five elements, including regaining a sense of safety, restoring calm to reduce negative emotions, connecting to social support, feeling able to handle stress, and experiencing confidence.
Don’t forget about company benefits such as EAP, self-directed coaching, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and other technology-based solutions that can help support mental well-being as well as mental health issues. These are anonymous ways for employees to reach out.
Text therapy has become more popular as well, thanks to online services like WellRight’s TextCoach™ solution, which delivers 24/7 access to qualified mental health professionals via mobile apps or websites.
Digital Behavioral Health Solutions
Computerized CBT (cCBT) delivered through digital behavioral health apps offers self-guided treatment for mental health issues via interactive online modules. This modality is proven effective and a perfect alternative for patients who struggle with severe anxiety.
WellRight’s Animo is a cCBT app designed to help your employees manage problems like anxiety, depression, and stress in a results-oriented manner.
These are just a few of the solutions WellRight offers to help employers tackle the employee mental health crisis and promote a healthy workplace. You can also access a full library of webinars, including our upcoming webinar panel on May 18th about helping employers empower their teams through adversity.
At WellRight, we’re here to help.