5 Ways Leaders Can Support Staff Mental Health During Economic Uncertainty

In times of economic uncertainty, many aspects of our lives that previously felt calm and secure can suddenly become sources of stress and concern. One such aspect is our income stream, which can increasingly be at the forefront of our minds, leading to unwanted feelings of worry.

Within the workplace this increased burden can be unsettling and can affect numerous aspects of an employee’s job. Continuous distractions and uncertainty may erode job satisfaction and productivity of the workforce.  In combination with the perpetual worry of being made redundant perhaps through the company downsizing or being laid off, there is a significant likelihood of diminishing well-being and if left unaddressed, a downward spiral towards stress, anxiety and depression.   

With this information in mind, business leaders should pause and analyse how to bring about improving the culture of the workplace to better support the staff’s mental health. While this is clearly not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, the focus should remain on creating a culture of support, stability and psychological safety by: 

Making an effort to empathise

While you may not be in exactly the same situation as another member of your team, we can always show empathy and compassion towards another and the dilemma they may be faced with. It starts with putting yourself in their shoes and at least attempting to see the world from their perspective.  Although it can be hard to imagine how you would feel in someone else’s situation, the effort alone can often create more compassion and understanding with what another individual may be going through. Combine this with active listening, open body language and careful responses, which all help to build rapport and make you accessible to the other person. When responding, be as supportive as you can and avoid interruptions and criticism. Instead, reframe your responses towards feedback and ideas. Remember, empathy can be demonstrated in many different ways simply by acknowledging the challenges that the staff may be facing and offering support and understanding.

Being transparent

For an organisation to fully promote trust and reassure their team members, transparency is a key factor. However, it can take time to build and can be easily lost. The first step towards this goal is to be clear with roles, responsibilities and expectations. With clarity around these basic job functions, employees can be reassured that they are fulfilling what is required of them. This should be underpinned by clear policies and procedures for making decisions, dealing with conflict and difficult conversations. Create space for questions, continually asking for feedback irrespective of whether it is likely to be positive or negative.  Lastly, train managers and leaders to act as positive role models and ensure that they continue to support the framework around transparency.

Being positive

While being positive seems like an easy change to make, it can be hard to maintain in a consistent way. The art of being positive can take effort and for many be unnatural. It’s not just about being positive at an individual level but more so creating a positive work environment. To achieve this, show the team that you appreciate the work that they have done by public praise or even small thank yous. The aim is to boost morale and create a positive vibe throughout the work environment. Encourage personal and professional development or consider training and mentoring opportunities.

Being flexible

The global pandemic taught many of us that the standard ‘pre-COVID’ structure of work does not get the most out of everyone. With that information and as more employees are requesting flexible working, a less rigid work structure can often ensure that you get the best out of that individual. Furthermore, allowing someone to work around some of their daily commitments including school runs, dental appointments etc reduces the stress that people experience. The difficulty with this situation is that it comes down to trusting that the employees are still providing an honest day’s work and value for money.  Alongside this, if leaders allow flexible working arrangements it can provide employees time for a better work-life balance including time for self-care and exercise. Importantly, both these factors have been shown to make a worker more productive and less likely to burnout while at the same time enhancing their well-being.

Providing training

The final aspect to support staff mental health during an economic downturn is training. The trend among many companies, especially since the global pandemic, is to provide health and wellbeing workshops or an EAP (employee assistance program) to support staff in times of need or simply to feel better about themselves. While these resources are often extremely valuable, at the same time they are found to be underutilised or poorly attended.

Additionally, it can be condescending to a team that is financially struggling to start providing random wellness classes and wellbeing support without addressing the nub of the issue. Instead, employers should consider offering financial planning workshops and resources for employees to help them to understand their budgets better and different ways of reorganising their home finances. If funds allow, an organisation could add an element of overtime to a struggling employee or could even consider moving them to a ‘5 in 4’-day week to allow them to take an extra day of work somewhere else. Many companies worry about this as they feel that they want to keep tight control on their workforce, but by openly discussing these options it can enhance a sense of worth within an individual and make them feel wanted and cared for.

It is clear that economic uncertainty places significant burdens on all of us and from a workplace perspective, it can considerably challenge the mental health of a workforce. Feelings of uncertainty and instability may be subdued with empathic communication, enhanced transparency around roles and expectations and by creating a positive work environment.  Meeting your workforce’s needs for flexible working arrangements alongside training and upskilling can both create and enhance their sense of safety, stability and trust.

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