Are Kiwi leaders overlooking their own mental health?

'Nothing will make you feel more lonely than trying to hide your challenges'

Are Kiwi leaders overlooking their own mental health?

New data from The Workforce Institute at UKG has uncovered that three-fifths of the world’s employees say their job impacts their mental health more than any other factor.

The same survey also concluded that workers are tired and stressed and they want their leaders to do more for their mental health.

However, a fact that workers sometimes overlook is that their leaders are merely human. As Jacinda Adern stepped down from her role as prime minister last week, she told the media, “The only interesting angle you will find is that, after going on six years of some big challenges, that I am human.”

In fact, the UKG survey also uncovered that 70% of managers would take a pay cut for a job that better supports their mental health and 40% said they would likely quit within the year because of work-related stress.

‘Leaders are only human’

“Leaders are only human, and, ignoring any personal political views, Jacinda Ardern’s humanistic approach to this is refreshing,” said Elizabeth O’Brien, chief people officer at Author-it.

“I have twins nearly exactly the same age as her daughter Neve, and I can only imagine that maintaining a high standard of professionalism in her high-pressure role, all while trying to raise a pre-schooler and maintain a healthy relationship, would have been mentally, emotionally and physically draining.”

We’re moving towards a time when people understand that good mental health is important, said Jane Kennelly, GM of wellbeing at Skills Consulting Group.

“Leaders play an important role in safeguarding the mental health of people in the workplace because they control workflow, set goals and expectations, and the tone for good mental health in the workplace. In order for this to work, leaders need to make sure their own mental health is prioritised.”

A new report has revealed that managers play a major role in their employees' mental health, perhaps even more than initially expected.

The key to ensuring leaders remain “tip-top at the top” is by encouraging them to be honest with themselves about where they are at and the pressures they are feeling, said Claire Day, director of workplace culture consultancy CultureWise.

“Then, I'd encourage them to find someone they trust to talk to about what they can do to mitigate the business risks and personal health challenges they're facing. The confidante may be a friend or a professional. Bottling things up isn't the answer.”

Kennelly agreed: “Nothing will make you feel more lonely than trying to hide your challenges,” she said explaining that leaders must first understand why their own mental health is important. To be an effective leader, you need to show empathy, be perceptive and keep showing up, all of which are compromised if you have poor mental health.

Kennelly offered further tips to maintain mental health:

Don’t go it alone: If you feel like you’re on your own, even when people are around you, you’ll feel vulnerable. Make time and effort to build relationships with colleagues and your team “and have a friendly shoulder to lean on,” she says, meaning a person who is at the same level in the organisation, who can help you navigate some of the challenges.

Take time out every day: Avoid staying at your desk all day. Get out of the office and walk around. Make yourself a priority. Sometimes, the release you will feel when out of the building even for a few minutes can be liberating. You need to ask yourself the question: “Can I keep working like this?” says Kennelly.

Make exercise a part of your routine: There are plenty of options out there to try, which don’t all involve running. “Try a little meditation or a few minutes of stretching so you can switch off your brain from the challenges of work and life,” she says.

Set yourself up so you aren’t afraid to leave: Leadership is not all about what happens at work — personal situations play a big part. If you can set yourself up so that you have some money to fall back on, a mortgage that is sustainable, or a reasonable lifestyle, you won’t be desperate to cling to your job. “Some managers have a terrible time, hanging onto their job for grim death because they need the money so they soak up stress and fear and keep coming back for more because they feel they can’t leave,” says Kennelly.

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