If you’re a boss, manager, or supervisor, you know how important having a good workplace culture is. Being an effective boss isn’t about pushing for productivity and hustle at all costs. It’s about supporting your employees’ mental health and overall well-being in order to keep them feeling excited, engaged, and cared for. Creating a safe and inclusive space for employees to thrive is easier said than done, though.
As a therapist for millennials with anxiety and neurodivergence, I work a lot with high-achieving women who want to know how to better support their employees’ mental health. Anxiety is one of the most common problems people deal with at work. As a supervisor, you have the unique ability to be able to dial down unnecessary stressors in the workplace and ease your employees’ anxiety. Modeling healthy behaviors, checking in regularly with your employees, having good boundaries, and encouraging workplace flexibility are great ways to improve workplace mental health.
Stress levels in workplace environments are somewhat alarming. Employee anxiety and stress has been steadily increasing for years, and 40% of American employees report their jobs are very or extremely stressful. Unfortunately, most work stress comes down to unhealthy, unsustainable behaviors encouraged by supervisors and cultural attitudes about work. These behaviors often lead to things like employee exhaustion, resentment, and burnout.
Luckily, you have the power to implement – and model – a healthy workplace culture that promotes better mental health among your employees.
Everyone deserves to work in a low-stress environment where they feel healthy, cared for, and respected. So here are five ways to boost your employees’ mental health and keep their anxiety as low as possible.
Your employees will be able to tell the difference between you merely talking about the importance of healthy behaviors vs. living those healthy behaviors. Make sure you walk the talk, or else your encouragement will feel disingenuous.
Here are some healthy behaviors you can model and encourage in yourself and your employees:
Taking care of yourself may require you to unlearn some of the harmful things you’ve been taught about work and your own self-worth. It requires learning new sets of skills, too. But these are worthwhile skills to hone. When you actively take care of yourself, your employees will take note – and see it as permission to take care of themselves as well.
Having regular employee check-ins sets the stage for honesty, transparency, and openness. Low-key and honest check-ins can lower employee anxiety because they’ll feel supported and empowered to bring up issues they may be having. Your check-ins don’t have to be formal. Make a habit of talking openly with your employees, and ask them regularly how they’re doing and what they need.
Here are some dos and don’ts of regular check-ins.
Do model an open-door policy. Ask them how they’re feeling and what they need regularly, including potential workplace accommodations for anxiety. This will encourage them to come to you when they need something or are struggling.
Don’t send emails saying things like “We need to talk.” This can make people severely anxious and start spiraling, wondering what they did wrong or whether they’re being punished.
Do share your own struggles as much as you’re comfortable doing so. I don’t mean you should vent to them about all your life’s problems, but you may want to share with them that you’re stressed and taking a staycation for a few days, or share that you’re in therapy and take an hour off work every Tuesday to attend your appointment. Showing genuine vulnerability builds trust and rapport.
Don’t force your employees to share anything if they don’t want to or seem uncomfortable. This will only lead to more anxiety.
Don’t gossip or talk poorly about other members of your team. This can feel like a way to bond with someone, but it usually degrades trust and can make an environment feel cutthroat and scary.
Do give your employees and whatever issue they bring up your full attention. Empathize with what they’re telling you, and then work with them to improve the situation if necessary.
Modeling and encouraging good boundaries is one of the best ways to improve workplace culture and support employees with anxiety.
Dos and don’ts of good boundaries include:
Don’t call, text, or email them during non-work hours. Employees who have anxiety may have a tendency to continually check emails and texts, and may feel obligated to respond right away. This can breed more anxiety and resentment down the road.
Don’t pile on extra projects or work for your employees. This can lead to people feeling overworked and underappreciated. Make sure you’re listening to your employees about their capacity – and honoring that.
Do be clear in your expectations. Clarity helps people know what to expect and clears up confusion about their roles.
Do encourage your employees to ask honestly for what they need. Make sure to ask them to let you know when their workload feels unmanageable and they want support.
You probably know just as well as your employees that work often isn’t – and doesn’t need to be – the most important part of someone’s life. Home and family life, personal stressors, and hobbies outside of work are all key parts of someone’s overall happiness. Encouraging rest, breaks, and time off keeps your employees’ wellbeing high and anxiety levels low.
If there’s any way to let your employees flex their schedules, do it. Offering flexible schedules lets people with anxiety feel more in control of their life and schedules. If they’re not a morning person, for example, having to be at work at 7 or 8am can ramp up stress hormones, leading to chronic anxiety and other mental health problems. Work with people’s natural schedules by allowing them to flex their hours to the extent that’s possible in your workplace.
Being in charge of multiple employees doesn’t have to be something you cope with on your own. It’s a lot of work, and it’s no easy task. Therapy can help.
I’m here to help you come up with ways to challenge your own perfectionist tendencies so you can better care for your workers, goals to support your employees’ well-being, and figure out the best ways to model and encourage healthy behaviors at your workplace. You’ll walk away feeling like the confident, caring supervisor that you are – and know you have what it takes to impact other people’s mental health for the better.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.