March 6, 2022

Severe Stress Disorders Among Leaders Is Rising
By Jayne Warwicker

The pandemic and its aftermath have brought trauma worldwide, and Managers and Leaders are no exception. It is crucial that a company ensures mental wellbeing within their workforce and provides effective support; not only during times of unparalleled situations such as the pandemic but day to day..

Whatever your view on the pandemic, every single person on our planet has experienced some form of trauma brought on by Covid-19. Extra pressure at work as staff are furloughed or taking sick leave or in isolation, business owners and staff unsure whether businesses and jobs are still secure and of course personal traumas. Some leaders are more resilient with some being pushed to the edge.

Leading people already comes with a hefty amount of responsibility, and now it includes caring for the health and safety of others at a level unimagined. The challenge for leaders is figuring out how to continue to be resilient while personally dealing with trauma. It’s an issue that hasn’t been fully addressed, and with the pandemic taking somewhat of a back seat in comparison to the last two years, it is important that lessons are learned and good practice continues in the realm of mental health and wellness.

Often companies ensure access to Employment Assistance Programmes and encourage managers to highlight this support with their staff, but often managers and leaders are seen not to engage with this. Considering the tremendous amount of pressure these positions entail, this is extremely concerning and a big contributing factor to poor health and well-being and staff retention amongst leaders of people. Alongside the responsibility of ensuring the companies growth and profitability, they also have to ensure that everyone on their team is not only performing but feeling supported.

So, what should you expect, and how should you respond to signs of stress among your leaders?

1. Emotional stability

It goes without saying that too much stress eventually leads to sleep disturbance and therefore fatigue and poor emotional well-being. This can quickly result in individuals having difficulty thinking rationally and clearly which can impact the ability to effectively problem solve and make decisions. Organisations need to be aware of any changes in the Managers performance and demeanour and step in quickly to find out the root cause and offer appropriate support. A barrier to this recently, of course, has been less face to face communication. Zoom/Teams doesn’t always show the nuances that may be indicators of individuals deteriorating mental health or increasing stress levels. Increasing contact where subjects other than work are discussed will provide opportunities to step in and offer support before the situation results in long term absence or resignation.

2. Mistakes will happen

Despite what many people may think, leaders are not superheroes who are immune to severe stress disorders — they’re humans, too, and situations such as the pandemic, affect them just as it does anyone else. PTSD, burn-out or severe stress disorders in fact, in leaders, were prevalent long before the pandemic reared its ugly head. A contributing factor to this can be errors of judgement. Leaders make mistakes, and they need understanding, empathy and support if they are to come out of them without their resilience and self-esteem being affected negatively. Should this not happen there is the risk that mistakes may be hidden in future or leaders feel that they must be ‘careful’, taking no risks, and therefore any innovation or flare that can move the business forward, can be lost. Condemnation is never an effective management tool. Organisations need to be supportive of leaders and allow them to rebound from their mistakes. Yes, we can provide constructive feedback to allow them to develop and learn, but alongside this support and understanding is needed to ensure that it does not escalate.

Throw performance measures as we know them out the door for now — they don’t apply in these situations. If you’re going to rate your leaders, focus on how well they’ve kept the ship afloat with the crew intact and understand that a toll has been taken. Right now, it’s about care and compassion.

3. Time off must be encouraged

It’s so easy to get caught up in work, but putting off self-care doesn’t do anyone any good. We all need to get away and disconnect every now and then to relax and take care of our mental health. There are countless studies that show how important this is for positive mental health and continued productivity. Business owners and senior leadership should advocate and model the behaviours of self-care. Encourage your leaders to take frequent short breaks during the day, exercise, eat well and take time off to fully disconnect. If someone is working an excessive number of hours, encourage them to take a step back. Due to workforce shortages at present, this is often ignored as it’s seen as counterproductive but ignore this at your peril; a burnt-out leader is no use to the company or their team and they will experience poor work/life balance and continued poor mental well-being. Leaders need time to reset and renew as does every individual.

Remember to be supportive

The pandemic has lasted a long time and left many of us dealing with some sort of psychological poor health. Between the challenges of working from home and navigating this strange new world, it’s safe to say we’re nearing the limit on just how much we can take mentally, emotionally and even physically. No one is immune to the toll of the pandemic, not even leaders. That’s why it’s so important that companies show support and really encourage self-care throughout the organisation.

Jayne Warwicker BSc – founder of the Lioness Power System

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