Author: Nina Tomaro, Marketing and Communications Lead, Mind Share Partners
Managers have the opportunity to create work and team environments that play a positive impact on their team’s wellbeing. Earlier this year, we saw a slew of report findings that managers have a greater influence on employee mental health than therapists or doctors and equal to that of their team members' spouses and partners. Whether remote, hybrid, or in-person, you spend 8-, sometimes 12-hour days with your manager. For better or worse, managers play a critical role in workplace mental health.
As mental health at work continues to worsen, however, we’re finding many managers feel unclear about what they can do to best support their teams. At Mind Share Partners, one of the most impactful things we’ve seen our clients do is to train their managers on how to navigate mental health on their teams, and this often starts with understanding exactly what a manager’s role is around mental health at work.
What Is a Manager’s Role in Workplace Mental Health?
A manager’s primary role in supporting workplace mental health is to be aware, supportive, and curious. Managers are not therapists, nor should they ever be. Managers should never diagnose or treat their team members' mental health. Instead, the most important thing they can do is be aware, curious, and supportive in response to challenges, and also to proactively create a work and team environment that positively impacts their team members' mental health and well-being.
To accomplish this, managers have four key responsibilities that can be wrapped into their overall leadership and job role.
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#1. Managers Can Create a Safe Work and Team Environment for Mental Health.
Every manager can create a culture of psychological safety for their team members, especially when it comes to simply talking about mental health, experiencing challenges, and getting support. To do this, managers can consider strategies like:
Modeling behaviors that support mental health. People typically look to their managers for cues on team norms and expectations. Visibly modeling and intentionally encouraging actions like taking breaks, actively checking in on stress and burnout, or having your therapy appointment visible to your team on your work calendar sends the message that mental health is a normal and accepted part of work.
Talking about mental health at work and share your experience. Managers can talk about their own mental health experiences, and by sharing, they signal to team members that these experiences are normal. Sharing doesn't have to be a 10-minute speech either. Simply acknowledging that you're feeling stressed or anxious can be enough when normalized over time.
Raising awareness around mental health resources. Being aware of employer resources and ensuring team members know how to access them is similarly key. Again, this doesn't have to always be intensive. A thorough walkthrough during onboarding is natural. But friendly reminders during busy periods can be helpful, too, or even amidst lulls when people may have more time to explore what's available.
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#2. Managers Can Create a Healthy and Sustainable Day-To-Day Experience of Work.
Unhealthy cultures of work can strain on our mental health. Work itself can cause the development of diagnosable mental health conditions, and poorly managed working conditions are the fundamental root of burnout.
Managers can create an everyday work experience that works for their team members. They can explore strategies like:
Creating regular check-ins with your team and one-to-ones with individual team members. Use this time to get to know your team members and what they individually need to feel supported and empowered around their work. Be intentional about the cadence of these meetings and what you check in about.
Exploring ways to create autonomy, flexibility, and balance around work. This often involves knowing what your team members' working styles are, practicing inclusive decision-making, and being clear about the "what" and "why" of work while empowering others to decide the "when," "where," and "how."
Establishing individual and team-wide norms around work. This creates structure and predictability around work. This can look like being clear around priorities (and "de-priorities"), timelines, roles, how decisions are made, how people communicate, and expectations around responsiveness.
#3. Managers Can Navigate Mental Health Conversations With Understanding and Care.
If and when a team member does share that they are experiencing a mental health challenge, a manager's first role is to be present, listen actively, and validate their experience before jumping to solutions. They can also ask open-ended questions to further create space for sharing and validation.
If the challenge is outside of work, being a supportive colleague may be all that's needed. If the challenge is rooted in work itself, however, there's a bigger role managers must play in supporting their team members. One way is through “adaptations”—adjustments within their realm of control as a manager—to create flexibility and inclusion around work itself. This could be shifting start and end times, timelines, work location, or prioritization of tasks.
Of course, remember that managers are not therapists, so they shouldn't make assumptions or try to diagnose their team members. Managers should also know when HR needs to be involved—most often when there's a risk of harm to self or others. Outside of that, HR's involvement can vary by company, so they should contact their HR team to know their preferences.
#4. Managers Can Pay Attention to Trends and Surface Them to Leadership.
As a manager, it's important to notice your team's challenges, stressors, wants, needs, and other trends along with the ebbs and flows of work itself. Simultaneously, managers can explore adaptations iteratively to maintain a healthy team culture. Sharing these trends with leadership along with the strategies that do and don't work can help inform new programs and policies that can be provided organization-wide.
Managers Can Learn and Upskill Through Workplace Mental Health Training
As we all pursue a mentally healthy workplace—managers included—we all can similarly benefit from learning. In an organizational setting, this most commonly takes place through training.
Mind Share Partners offers a robust portfolio of learning offerings, and our manager sessions are by far our most requested training. Organizations can provide the clarity, confidence, support, and awareness that the modern manager needs by equipping managers with the knowledge and skills to navigate mental health on their team. This includes ongoing learning to effectively respond to the ever-changing state of the world and their own workplaces.
That's why we offer both core manager training sessions and ongoing deeper dive sessions (such as "Navigating mental health conversations & performance" and "DEIBJ & Mental Health"), along with live, virtual, and on-demand options.
About the Author
Nina Tomaro, Marketing and Communications Lead, Mind Share Partners
As Mind Share Partners' Marketing and Communications lead, Nina develops and drives the organization's content marketing strategy. As one of the organization's early team members, Nina has a deep breadth of knowledge about workplace mental health and drives the creation of Mind Share Partners resources to support organizations in creating mentally healthy workplace cultures.