How to manage mental health in the C-suite

Mental health concerns among execs have risen since the pandemic began

How to manage mental health in the C-suite

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that managing mental health in the workplace is a top priority.

The dial has shifted on an employer’s responsibility with forward-thinking companies now taking the lead in providing holistic, whole-person approaches to wellbeing.

We often think of wellbeing strategy as a tool to support the masses, rather than top-tier execs, but new research by Oracle has found that during the pandemic, mental health issues among the C-suite have risen higher than employees on the whole.

The global survey of over 12,000 respondents found 53% of execs had faced mental health problems since the global health crisis began, compared to 45% of employees.

The main concerns within the C-suite included difficulty in learning how to use new technology, a lack of workplace culture, increased stress and anxiety, and struggling to collaborate virtually.

Speaking to HRD, Rudy Crous, corporate psychologist and co-founder of Compono, said people leaders may struggle to feel in control when their staff are remote.

“They might be responsible for hundreds of staff, but don’t have the insight into what their staff are doing and this makes it incredibly difficult for them to feel good about their role as motivators and managers,” he said.

“Feeling stressed and anxious about this lack of oversight is only natural. However, with remote working, this mental strain can go unnoticed and our leaders are at risk of withdrawing or experiencing greater mental health issues.”

Oracle’s research also found that compared to employees, execs were more comfortable talking to an AI robot, like a chatbot, about their mental health.

It suggests that despite far greater understanding and empathy around mental health in the workplace, execs may still feel unable to be open with their colleagues about the challenges they’re facing.

Read more: Australia’s first national mental health resource launched for HR professionals

While mental health continues to be a priority for HR leaders, Crous pinpointed some specific tips to help execs better manage their wellbeing.

Identify the root cause

This is a good starting point for any creeping feelings of anxiety. Crous said while it’s easy to put these feelings down to a bad day or a stressful period, there is usually an underlying reason.

Perhaps it’s to do with confronting issues on an upcoming project or a difficult conversation that you’ve been putting off, identify the cause and schedule a plan of action to tackle it.

Do a gap analysis

Technology is changing at a rapid speed and often, solutions are being created almost as quickly as the problems emerge.

“For example, if you’re struggling with virtual collaboration for strategy sessions, look at new ways you can facilitate collaboration and bring greater visibility into what you’re doing,” Crous said. “Understand the gaps so you can fill them.”

Find structure

It’s natural to feel out of control when you can’t physically see your staff day in, day out. After all, it’s going against everything we previously knew about working in an office.

While the acceleration to virtual has been rapid, it can take far longer to change our behavioural norms.

Rudy said implementing a solid structure is key to recreating that feeling of control for a remote workforce.

“Structure is critical for both work and home, and by building structure with more touch points with staff and management groups, you can achieve greater visibility,” he said.

“Take a more stringent approach to process and procedures. What gets measured, gets done.”

Read more: How to manage your anger and frustration at work

Make milestones manageable

Upping the frequency of evaluation opportunities is important to keep connected with staff, especially when working on a long-term goal.

Crous recommends breaking goals down into manageable chunks that allow for more frequent evaluation, as well as implementing more short-term tactics.

“As leaders, we often talk in strategies, but when you’re feeling overwhelmed it's time to take action and prioritise tactics,” he said.

“Tactics are what help us achieve strategy and measure success. Implement them to help you regain control of your deliverables.”

Connect with your team

Don’t underestimate the importance of connection when it comes to fostering a strong culture.

Diminishing workplace culture is one of the biggest concerns for companies going forward with a remote work model – and rightly so.

All good business leaders know culture is intrinsic to success. If your culture crumbles, knock-on effects on engagement, wellbeing and productivity will inevitably follow.

Rudy said the link between management and culture is more visible when everyone is in the office.

“When you’re working remotely, you can’t bring people together at the water cooler and work collaboratively,” he said.

“Instead, you have to be strategic about it. Think about the culture you want to drive with your team and implement the tactics to build this environment.”

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