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Maintaining a healthy workforce: Six things every leader should know

Maintaining a healthy workforce: Six things every leader should know

An author, speaker, advisor and educator in the fields of human performance and leadership, Karen Gately brings a fresh perspective to what it takes to be a successful manager of people. Here she discusses the importance of managing the mental health of your staff to make your workplace a happy and productive environment.

We all know if a staff member has flu then the best place for them to be – for their health and the health of the team – is at home. But how conscious are we of our staff and colleagues' mental health? With events such as R U OK? Day gaining traction, what are your obligations as a leader to support your staff's mental health, and how can you help ensure they stay happy, healthy and productive in the workplace?

Put simply, people who enjoy working with their colleagues and trust their manager are more likely to be energised and strive to succeed. When our work experiences energise our spirit, we are more likely to think, feel and act in ways that have a positive influence on not only our success at work, but in all in all areas of life. The environment we work in has the potential to impact not only work performance and business results, but also our mental and physical wellbeing. By creating a healthy workplace culture, leaders have a double-edged opportunity to achieve better outcomes as well as positively impact the health and happiness of people.

1. Prioritise culture

Creating a respectful and compassionate workplace culture that inspires people to look after themselves and one another is a critical priority. Take the steps needed to ensure people behave in ways that have a healthy impact on their workmates and the team. Strive to create an environment in which people are not only permitted but also encouraged to maintain balance between their work and home lives.

2. Drive from the top

Success is intimately related to the degree of real and visible ownership embraced from the top. More than just owning the culture, managers need to represent the best example of the culture they are working to create. It is a non-negotiable requirement for every leader in a business to lead by example and champion the desired workplace culture.

3. Make behaviour matter

The expectations a leader sets, coaching they provide and consequences they apply for the way people choose to behave has a profound impact on the workplace environment. Consequences include rewarding and recognising successful behaviours as well as taking action to address poor conduct. To purposefully create a healthy culture:

  • Value both what people do and how they go about it.
  • Be consistent – from person to person and over time.
  • Recruit for fit. Hire only people aligned with your desired culture.
  • Identify and address cultural misalignment with discipline.

4. Educate

Many people are relatively uneducated about the signs of mental illness such as anxiety and depression, and what to do when they become aware of it. Develop your managers’ and team members’ understanding of how to recognise when they or a work colleague may be experiencing mental illness. Ensure people know the steps they can take to help. Overcome the all-too-common stigma associated with mental illness by educating people about the facts.

5. Connect

Spend time with each person on your team to understand who they are and how best to influence their success and wellbeing. Knowing the people who work for you will put you in a stronger position to provide the support, guidance and resources they need to manage the demands of their work life. With a strong relationship based on trust and respect, any leader is more able to influence the way people think, feel and behave.

6. Support

No matter the nature of our relationship with someone, we should never hesitate to ask how they are. Simply asking “Are you okay?” tells someone you care and invites him or her to talk to you. While of course it matters that we maintain appropriate professional boundaries in our relationships, acting with compassion when we see anyone struggling is simply the right thing to do. It's not your role to diagnose or provide counselling, but it is your role to assist the people you work with to get the help they need.

Keeping up communication with your staff is one of the best ways to check on the status of their mental health. Learn about how to enhance mental health at your business.

Karen Gately is a leadership and people-management expert, and a founder of HR consultancy Ryan Gately. Karen works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Getting the Best from People, as well as The Corporate Dojo: Driving Extraordinary Results Through Spirited People.

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