As a young manager in my first corporate role, I really had no idea the impact I could have on other people's lives.
As we all know, previous experience in management can be positive or negative. I clearly had no idea the types of information I would be told. I didn’t know much about the sensitivities, the challenges, and the inside view of the lives of my team members. Sadly, I had very limited experience in the corporate world at the time, along with my actual maturity, age, and then eventually added in proper management training. I lead the way I thought I should.
I look back now and wish I had additional support, resources, and ongoing coaching or training for the things that simply aren't in a textbook. Remembering back to those early years, I oversaw about 83 employees in total with middle managers as the direct lead. The challenges that I learnt of, and unfortunately saw unfold, were difficult to understand and know how to deal with.
In those years, we didn’t talk too much about the impact of mental health. Did I ever think that the stress of finances, workplace bullying, or fear of job loss could lead to suicide? ABSOLUTELY NOT. My eyes were forced open to these issues the day that it happened. We tragically lost a colleague to mental health issues and, to this day, I wonder what, if anything, could I have done differently to support. The “what if’s” can destroy you, but only if you let them.
September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. This day is recognized to bring awareness to suicide, increase action towards reducing suicide rates, and lower the stigmas surrounding suicide, suicidal idealization, and thoughts of self-harm. In Canada, an average of 10 people die by suicide each day. As leaders, we need to pay attention to the trends and how they affect our team members. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, “Increased stress, anxiety and depression are all side-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some people, this translates to feelings of hopelessness, despair, or even suicidal thoughts.”
The Centre for Suicide Prevention lists the following as identifiable warning signs to look for in employees:
• Being very happy after a period of depression
• Acting more aggressive or stressed out than usual (e.g. lashing out at people)
• Commenting on being tired all the time, being noticeably fatigued
• Commenting about being a burden to others (e.g. “Everyone would be better off if I wasn’t here”)
• Not showing up for work as often or being absent for long periods of time (absenteeism)
• Not being as productive as usual, being un-motivated (presenteeism).
As a leader, you need to be focused on the well-being of your employees. Trust me, you don’t want to live with those “what if’s”. Supporting your employees should be a high priority in your day-to-day work. It can be hard to know where to start, and so much of it can feel overwhelming or out of your scope of practice.
Here are just a few key ideas I have learnt and applied over the years to lead better:
Believe in your team members ALWAYS (Pygmalion Leadership)
If they aren't meeting the expectations, don't wait for feedback - coach them as you would for someone you love whom you want to succeed. If they still can't meet the expectations, help them leave the organization gracefully.
Lead by example and normalize mental health
Be open, honest, and create an environment where people feel comfortable having difficult conversations with you. Choose your words carefully, and avoid any stigmatizing or blame-based language.
Listen to your gut
When your "gut" says your team member is struggling, allow them the space they need to find support, resources, and time to heal
Take the time to learn about your team
What motivates them? What causes them to be stressed? How can you best communicate and support them as individuals?
Create policies and procedures for mental wellness
There are many free resources to help you keep mental wellness at the forefront of your operations. If your organization can afford the time and space to provide mental health resources and policies - introduced in the interview process - follow through in your onboarding. Most importantly, show up every day as a leader with mental health at the forefront of goals!
I know I have made PLENTY of management mistakes over the years. Every day, I try harder for my team, my client’s teams, and myself! Remind yourself that as a leader, people look up to you. Use that influence to empower your team members to live their best lives and put their best selves forward. Managing people is a privilege; let’s not forget the impact we can have.
If you or someone on your team are struggling, please do not hesitate to connect with Crisis Services Canada https://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/en/
Canada, P. H. A. of. (2019, July 22). Suicide in Canada. Canada.ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/suicide-prevention/suicide-canada.html.
Centre for Suicide Prevention. (2017, May). The Workplace and Suicide Prevention: A Suicide Prevention Tool Kit. https://www.suicideinfo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Workplace-Toolkit_web.pdf.
Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2021, January 21). Suicide Prevention in the Workplace. The Working Mind. https://theworkingmind.ca/sites/default/files/suicide_prevention_guide_eng_15-jan-21.pdf.