Are you and other leaders in your organization languishing?

By Dr. Bill Howatt

COVID has triggered intense focus on employees' mental health, leading organizations to invest more attention and resources on this critical issue.

While this is an important step in the right direction, there is still a big gap. Most of the money spent is directed towards training leaders to understand the importance of a psychologically safe and inclusive workplace and help them support employees at risk. However, too little attention is paid to leader care. In a recent post on leader care, we shared some startling statistics about the psychological safety of senior leaders. Oracle and Workplace Intelligence research showed that "C-suite executives (53%) have struggled with mental health issues in the workplace more than their employees (45%)."

Do you and other leaders in your organization feel supported?

With "The Great Resignation of 2021," employees are tapping out in droves, and many organizations already hit hard by the pandemic are scrambling to stay afloat amid unprecedented staff shortages.
This isn't just happening in the lower ranks. Organizational leaders across many sectors are evaluating whether their positions are worth all the demands and expectations they face.

On a typical day, languishing leaders spend more hours experiencing unpleasant emotions than their flourishing peers do. When leaders spend more than half of their day in unpleasant emotions, they struggle to find the mental energy to operate at full potential.

Boards and CEOs must step back and evaluate what is being done to protect and retain valuable leaders like you who contribute enormously to organizational performance and success. What steps are being taken to prevent you and your colleagues from falling into the mental state of languishing, feeling blah and unmotivated, and emotionally drained?

The diligence in managing psychological safety must start at the very top. You are human. Boards need to ensure CEOs are supported, and CEOs, in turn, must provide the support that senior leadership team members need.

Leader care is essential

When we created the WSPS Roadmap Building Block Four, we focused on psychologically safe leadership as a key factor in creating a psychologically safe workplace. One gap our research revealed is that many leaders are not receiving support to address their challenges and needs.

Like Hogan research reveals, we believe intrapersonal leadership skills are critical. And, mental fitness is equally important. You need to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to protect your well-being as you move through unpleasant emotions.

The risks of ignoring leader care are significant

If you are languishing, you may be more irritated, short-fused, more reactive, indecisive, and moody. And, when you are alone, you likely reflect on situations, conversations, and micro-interactions that did not go as well as you would have liked, or worse than that, created new problems.

Many leaders may not feel they can talk or share their concerns with anyone, and some senior leaders will not call an employee and family assistance program representative. Consider the kinds of support you and other leaders at different levels of your organization need and put them in place.

  1. Education and personal assessments ;– Educate leaders about languishing by offering short micro-skills designed to provide context. Explore the benefits of engaging employees and leaders in workplace mental health assessments such as the Mental Fitness Index (MFI), which provide confidential, personalized results. The results will show you where you fall on a continuum, from languishing to flourishing. You will also receive suggestions about what you can do if you are languishing.
  2. Mental fitness training – Take and provide other leaders in your organization, including the Board, with training. Seek training programs focused on self-management, particularly emotional well-being and mental fitness. Do not assume a two-hour transactional course will do it. Seize transformational opportunities that provide ongoing support and tools designed to promote mental fitness.
  3. Support – Put the necessary supports in place, such as confidential coaching, mentoring, and peer support. Create space for leaders to be vulnerable and learn from each other.
  4. Risk management – The business case for psychological safety is clear. It is no longer nice to have; it is critical. Boards need to apply the same diligence and rigour to leader psychological safety as they do any other risk to the organization. Directors should ask questions about employees' mental health, including the leadership team, to manage engagement, retention, and productivity.

It's easy to mistake good work for healthy work. It can be easy to give the appearance that everything is under control. However, if you are buckling under mounting pressure and expectations, it is only a matter of time before you start to burn out.

To prevent this from happening, you and your Board must set the standard for the rest of the organization and be proactive about managing mental health from the top through the entire organization. You must help yourself before you can help others. And remember, there is no goal line or endpoint to achieve. Mental fitness is an ongoing process. Just like physical health, it requires constant attention and diligence to develop and maintain it.

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