COVID-19: Protecting the mental health of leaders
The only thing certain today is uncertainty - uncertainty about the health and safety of our families, friends and loved ones, uncertainty about if we will go back to living the lives we loved and so on and so forth.
We see and hear daily reports on widespread infections and deaths across the world. This adds to existing anxiety and for many, also causes emotional strain, and taking that a notch up, if you lose someone to the pandemic, it adds grief to it. All this is playing at the back of each and everyone's mind. How can one expect leaders to be averse to this?
If leaders are working non-stop with less than 5 hours of sleep on a day to day basis, not paying attention to their wellbeing, this trend will likely trickle down to the rest of the organization. And if the leader prioritizes self-care, then his/her team and families too will follow suit. Behaviors that cultivate wellbeing are the same behaviors that can help to mitigate mental health challenges.
In this piece, we pause to reflect on how has COVID impacted the mental health of leaders, focusing on the top 3 areas of impact, their link to mental stress and the need and mechanisms to cope with mental stress.
Resilience in navigating business issues
Costs, layoffs, plummeting stock prices, long work hours: These issues have contributed to umpteen sleepless nights for leaders which still continues. Lack of sleep can increase mental stress and can cause various behavioral issues along with severe health concerns. The first bearing of this outburst falls on the leaders’ family and friends, till a tipping point, and then it percolates into the organizational hierarchy.
Some of the resulting issues of this could be an aggressive outburst, lack of focus and clarity, becoming preoccupied with own thoughts and issues, and becoming more demanding of others. In extreme but not impossible scenarios, some might resort to domestic physical violence, indulgence in alcohol, drugs or narcotics to relieve their stress in such times.
Good mental health of leaders helps them to be more insightful, observant and vigilant. Such leaders will be able to respond to situations and adjust their approach. They will be agile and will work to explore new horizons and design a new reality for their families, friends and organizations. They will be in control of their behavior and will know how to balance work and home. They will know when it's getting too rough and when they need to switch off work to focus on other areas. The ability to swim in the sea without drowning and then returning to the beach to chill is unique to leaders who master this.
WFH, Lack of connect, Trust issues, and changing ways of work: Sudden change in the way we communicate and work has caused tremendous stress for leaders who are the custodian of organization communication. In the current work from home scenario, it becomes more and more important for leaders to understand what to communicate, how much to communicate and how to communicate?
Under such overwhelming circumstances, leaders might face trouble due to: improper/ offending tone, coming across as someone who lacks empathy, sounding forceful and offensive. Including wrong audience and excluding right audience, may lead to duplicity of work for the team and possible trust issues.
Leaders with good mental health are self-aware and utilize their emotional intelligence and social intelligence (EQ+SQ) to convey what they wish to say. Empathy and compassion is clearly visible in their voice, tone and message.
This helps leaders build trust, positivity and a unified purpose-driven atmosphere at the workplace. This also helps them resolve conflicts and maintain relations and peace at home in such times. In times like this, being connected is very important, being considerate about the safety and wellbeing of one and all, both physical and mental, is very important. Such leaders learn quickly and customize their communication style, tone, language and delivery to ensure that they touch and penetrate the heart and minds of their audience. Despite the physical distance, leaders today are leveraging interactive virtual collaboration technologies to be closer to their workforce, feeding in a sense of togetherness amid crisis.
WFH, Too much digital, lockdown and lack of space to workout: While this applies to every individual, it is definitely a focus area for leaders to lead effectively, especially during these times. Leaders who do not focus on being fit are sure to develop multiple mental and health issues even as COVID will cease to exist. Some of the (physical) observable ones will be obesity, lower immunity, lower endurance, muscle loss, vision and hearing issues to name a few.
The above concerns coupled with depression, fear, anxiety and mental fatigue will ensure that it completely crushes them beyond recovery if not addressed immediately.
Leaders who walk the talk will ensure that they follow a strict fitness regime, this will ensure that their families and teams also realize its importance and remain fit during and after lockdown days. Leaders who focus on this area, ensure that they have a “ME” time built in their routine and a strict “BEFIT” time which they do not skip. Leaders can involve their teams or their families to join them in fitness activities. Until lockdown and social distancing measures are relaxed, yoga, meditation, home workout, walking around inside the house or within society/gated premise if allowed, are some ways to remain fit. Others could be indulging in hobbies and interests like painting, music, cooking etc whichever helps you be mentally fit and engaged.
Most importantly like the old saying goes, “attitude is infectious”, a positive and optimistic attitude irrespective of what the situation is will help you see through things pragmatically, ensuring you are mentally agile to manage self and others in these troubled times. Introducing health and wellbeing programs is not enough; unless the leader isn’t modeling the behavior, the workforce won’t either.
If at any time as a leader or as an individual you face any mental stress, please ensure that you take professional help. Start by sharing what’s on your mind and how you are feeling with your loved ones/ friends/ peers, or a counsellor if you aren’t comfortable opening up to people around you.
Sharing relieves a lot of strain. I highly recommend it.