Leadership Obstacles: It is a duty for our leaders to look after their employees, but who looks after them?

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It is deeply embedded into UK Employment Law that employer’s hold a legal duty of care to protect employees’ mental health by maintaining an ethical and responsible organisation. However, there is little direct legislation in existence to protect the mental well-being of our leaders. It is important that leaders themselves are able to recognise the necessity of dedicating time to look after themselves and protect their psychological well-being.

A great leader, whether a political leader, a director or a person situated highly within an organisation, require a specific set of skills, gravitas, experience and are also required to act with gratitude, positive communication, influence and empathy, alongside many other positive traits (as outlined in our previous article ‘Well-being in the Workplace: What can leaders do to help?’).  Such qualities enhance a positive working community and thus goes some way to protect the well-being of those working for the leader and the leaders themselves. However, with the pressure that accompanies leadership, it can be difficult to exert such qualities and instead a pessimistic, uncooperative and unenthusiastic workplace may be fostered and might go unchecked.

Bupa Global’s study revealed that 64% of senior business people have suffered from some form of mental health condition and it was often the case that their work life significantly contributed to their struggles.

Whilst mentioned in our previous article, ‘Top Tips for Mental Well-being’ that the suffering from mental health conditions may be as recurrent as the common cold, the World Health Organization further emphasised the commonality of mental health disorders by highlighting that, internationally, over 450 million people are currently suffering from such conditions.

Leaders are often placed under significant pressure and often place themselves under pressure. Such pressure may result in various psychological conditions; as seen with some of our world’s most famous and historic leaders (including Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln and many more) who suffered from conditions despite their prodigious achievements.

With mental health issues being evidently more common amongst leaders than we might initially think, it can be assumed they risk becoming more prevalent as our fast moving, digitalised economy grows more complex. Indeed such effects will only get worse as we adjust and try to navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Bank forecasts show the global economy will shrink by 5.2% this year causing the deepest recession since World War II. This recession will have untold knock-on effects to organisations across the globe, a lot of which leaders might have no control of or at least limited direct control.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique crisis, one that has historically been witnessed maybe once per century throughout recorded history. No leader possesses all the skills nor experience to singlehandedly face down the challenges thrown at us and all must compromise normal routines to meet new extraordinary demands.

Though difficult during the current climate, all leaders must try to lead by example and remain positive. There are usually silver linings to every dark cloud, even the pandemic. Below are some examples of how, as a leader, you can bring such silver linings to light:

1. Energise yourself through the challenges faced, learn from new lessons and new mistakes. Continue to face problems strategically and methodically, remember what goes right and what goes wrong and regularly adapt your approach – make learning from new environments a fun challenge.

 

2. Use the digital world to construct a working community spirit and feel closer to your team than ever before. Implement greater transparency and collaboration across all networks of teams by implementing regular virtual meetings into team schedules and provide consistent updates to all employees. Digital adoption can not only make you feel closer to your teams but also to your customers. Below are some strategies and reasons for why you should communicate via the digital world to feel closer to both colleagues and customers:

  • Stay connected through mobile devices via regular calls and meetings
  • Organisations are reported to be 7% more productive with strong online social networks (Source: Alex Pentland, How social networks network best, Harvard Business Review, 2009, p. 37)
  • Install social media tools across company computers.

3. Greater flexibility in working pattern means a better work / life balance for yourself and your employees. It is important to maintain discipline and complete tasks but it is equally important to enrich your personal life, do things you enjoy and spend time with friends and family (at least virtually anyway). Do not live for work, work to live! Dedicate time to hobbies and spending time with loved ones. Remember the following:

  • 64% of employees would opt for a lower paying job to be able to work away from the office – Cisco Connected World Report 
  • Remote working allows employees access to work at any given time and so more urgent tasks are more likely to be tackled when faced
  • Flexible working saves time and resources and thus may increase revenue.

4. New precedents for working may create a landscape that is more productive than ever before. Maintain a positive working community and enhance communications and collaboration between colleagues. The pandemic has surprised the world by showing us all how productive employees can be from home! Further, energy previously dedicated to commuting and travel to work can now be saved for some real productivity. Some advantages to flexible working include:

  • Flexible working reduces operational costs by cutting travel and eliminating wasted time
  • To create a productive landscape, make sure all strategies align both in office and in digital working spaces
  • Introduce easier processes for employees to work.

 

5. Stronger internal communications must be forged for greater chances of operational success. As constructive feedback and purpose is given to employees, they are able to consistently improve and thus succeed. It may be instinctive for leaders to respond to the crisis by taking an independent decision-making authority and to control all information but practicing the opposite will promote a team’s success. Use your employees for what they are good at to get the best from the team and this means trusting employees with information, as applicable, and not keeping it all to yourself! Below are just some of the positives to building strong internal communications within your organisation:

  • Stronger internal communications can be provided by employers who implement relevant tools and technologies needed for the nature of their business. This may enable employees to find information or documents required easily.
  • The Holmes Report stated in recent years poor communication has cost organisations $37 billion due to simple misunderstandings and miscommunications. Communicate with your workforce to find out their preferred methods of communication and implement their ideas.
  • Communicate with your workforce to find out their preferred methods of communication and implement their ideas.

 

6. All leaders around the world are currently facing difficult challenges. Don’t bury your head in the sand, face the issues head on and look for advice, support and guidance where you can. Create time in your schedule dedicated to doing things that you love and spending time with those you love.

For more information, strategies and actions to take to improve your own and your employee’s mental well-being during this unprecedented time, click the links below to read the series of articles from our mental well being campaign:

There are also a number of other sources of information and business advice, such as your relevant professional bodies and associations, the Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Government website. Plus there are various sources of help for any one suffering mental stress and strain or worried about any of the issues highlighted in these articles, including the NHS and charities such as MIND and the Samaritans.

As we have maintained throughout all our articles in the mental well-being campaign, we are not experts in this area but have picked up tips and hints from reading articles created by experts which can be accessed via numerous links throughout the article series.

Something we are experts in is helping organisations solve their pain points and overcome problems across the commercial contract lifecycle, and this means we do get to see people working to tight deadlines, balancing work pressures with home life and working together, sometimes in difficult circumstances, to achieve goals and deliver results. Afterall, they are the assignments we at Clear like to target and help resolve.

We wanted to offer up these suggestions, tips and sound bites as much as anything to keep everyone talking about how they feel, normalising the conversation to check on your colleagues in stressful times and, therefore, generally look out for each other and remove the stigma both organisations and individuals might otherwise experience around mental health problems.

Remember, as quoted in the first article in the series, “Go on – challenge yourself to be better, in various ways, than yourself yesterday and challenge yourself again to keep growing to be better the day after and the day after that”… good luck!