Acknowledging and addressing mental health in the workplace can be a challenge for many leaders. Across society, mental health is still a touchy subject and one that many people avoid or don’t understand. But the fact is, mental health is part of who we are as human beings and it’s not something that can be ignored or compartmentalized. Research consistently indicates that poor mental health is a blow to productivity, with the U.K. government describing(1) it as the country’s biggest cause of disability, and estimating that it cost the economy £105 billion ($142 billion) in 2011. And according to The Lancet(2), the cost may actually reach $6 trillion by 2030.
With facts like these, it’s become an imperative that business leadership invests more in empathy if they want to improve their employee’s mental health. In fact, according to Development Dimensions International (DDI) research(3), empathy is the most critical value a leader can bring to a much-distressed workplace. And, in the midst of the Great Resignation(4), workers are re-evaluating their priorities and what matters to them at work. This can mean your business gets left behind if you’re not leading with empathy.
How the Pandemic Changed Workplace Empathy for Good
The COVID-19 pandemic tested every management and organizational structure worldwide, with quarantines, social distancing, and remote learning and working becoming part of the new normal. While the pandemic has been the ultimate test of our ability to adapt and change, empathy could be one of the biggest lessons we take from it. With it, we can create more trusting and compassionate relationships, especially in the workplace, to get through these challenging times together.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study(5) reported that almost half of Americans believe the pandemic has significantly affected their mental health. As a result, business leaders have been working actively to incorporate empathy into their workplaces, recognizing it as one of the most effective methods to care for and promote their employees’ well-being. As restrictions worldwide begin to lift and people are returning to their physical workplaces, it’s critical that leadership continue focusing on how to instill compassion into their workplace cultures, even after the pandemic.
How Businesses Redefine the Workplace
British entrepreneur James Routledge says that better mental health at work is partly down to CEOs and leaders. In fact, their own relationship with their mental health can shape the business’s approach to employee mental health. Leaders must first turn to their own mindset around their mental health and take stock.
So how can they authentically incorporate empathy into their management style? Below are a few starting points for leaders to consider to change their business’s approach to mental health at work.
- Recognize Staff and Show Appreciation
The distinction between work and personal life might get hazy, especially with remote work. We’ve all seen (or personally experienced) our kids or dog making a cameo on a video call. Empathetic leaders recognize that their team members are dynamic individuals with full personal lives who are also carrying out professional obligations. They understand that it is their responsibility to lead and care for staff as human beings, not just workers. Maintaining open communication channels and promoting openness are effective ways to create psychological safety and make staff feel comfortable sharing when necessary.
- Be Proactive About How You Value People
Successful organizations treat their workers as though they are family and are proactive in forging personal connections. This fosters a culture of empathy and care, which can raise workplace morale as employees see their needs being seen and valued. In fact, putting people before the bottom line could actually increase profits as happier people at work(6) lead to higher productivity.
- Make Your Team Feel Safe and Taken Care Of
The workplace has historically been a place where it’s difficult to be vulnerable or have conversations about mental health struggles. However, this mindset started to change and leading with qualities that emphasize care, trust, and safety has become the new norm. Leaders can make their teams feel safe by taking the initiative in expressing their own feelings first and thus encouraging them to open up. By listening to their concerns, employees will feel taken care of and they will start applying this principle in the relationship with their coworkers as well.
- Be Diligent and Responsive to Burnout
Burnout has long been an issue, especially in the American workplace, but it’s only something that has been publicly spoken about in recent years. Many individuals are anxious, putting in longer work hours than ever before, and struggling to separate work and personal life. This is often due to overt or covert beliefs that working long hours makes you a “better” employee. But part of cultivating good mental health is balance in every aspect of life – including work. It’s important to encourage (and set by example) a solid work-life balance for employees.
Empathetic leaders can detect signs of overwork in others before burnout becomes a problem that leads to disengagement or discord. This could mean spending a few additional minutes each week checking in with team members to understand their workloads, competing priorities, and to see how they’re managing everything. From there, leadership can offer ways to cut down on work and ensure some balance by implementing different activities for stress release.
What Will Workplace Empathy Look Like in the Future?
Many experts believe that while the pandemic was a once in a lifetime crisis, there is much that we can learn and take forward. From where employees work to caring for their mental health,
workplace processes will need to be re-evaluated as leaders figure out the next steps for their businesses. Aside from the traditional procedures and regulations for returning to work, business leaders should look to embrace technology by incorporating AI-based software solutions into their work processes to reduce employee workload.
Organizations should develop a culture that emphasizes and prioritizes historically “soft” skills such as empathy, listening, and responding to feedback. For example, Alphabet performed multiple “pulse surveys”(7) to better understand its workers which resulted in a return of productivity to pre-COVID levels.
Empathetic leaders are valuable assets to businesses because they can effectively develop and sustain connections, which are essential for leading organizations into the post-Covid future. Embracing qualities that engender connection, valuing staff, preventing burnout, and fostering a culture of empathy are all ways to lead with empathy.
At AscentCore, we help businesses bridge the gap by providing custom software development that streamlines processes and improves workplace efficiency. Using our integrated development model, we solve your company’s problems in retaining workforce and reinforcing customer relations. To access custom software that works for your organisation, contact us today.
- Poverty and mental health
- Mental health matters
- Leadership Skills Research
- Great Resignation
- The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use
- Happy workers are 13% more productive
- Alphabet CFO explains how Google fixed a dip in productivity during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic