Ann Francke on Managing Mental Health

Written by Ann Francke Sunday 01 March 2020
In Our Second Better Managers Briefing, Ann Francke Spoke to Simon Blake About How to Look After You and Your Team’s Mental Health
Ann Francke OBE, CMI's CEO

In these uncertain times it’s easy for us to feel overwhelmed, lose perspective on the positive and become anxious, depressed - or both. We might be self-isolating at home, alone or cooped up with many family members in a small space, with our own financial as well as physical wellbeing at risk alongside that of those we love.

What can we do to be more mindful of our mental health and make things better and brighter?

To help answer that all-important question, I sat down in conversation with Simon Blake, Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid, and a CMI Companion, in our YouTube broadcast last week.

Here are the five questions we discussed and the resulting answers:

1. These Are Tough Times. What Do We Need to Do to Be Better Able to Cope?

Overall, we need to recognise that this is an overwhelmingly uncertain time - not only due to uncertainty but also due to vast amounts of information. So we will all have a heightened sense of emotion - whether you are already someone with mental health conditions or for someone who ordinarily wouldn’t consider themselves in this category. For everyone, there are three things Simon suggests we can practice throughout this time:

  • Firstly, don’t forget to breathe. Take a deep breath, a pause and reflect. Acknowledge that it's ok to be feeling anxious at this time.
  • Secondly, take the time to talk and listen so we can process what is happening to us. Take the time to communicate and don't bottle things up.
  • Thirdly, get outside to enjoy nature - we know that nature has a calming effect

2. How Can Managers Talk to Their Teams About Their Mental Health?

Every single manager in the current climate needs to have conversations with their teams about their mental wellbeing. Staying silent isn’t an option - but we know that is not easy, and too few of us are trained. CMI research shows that less than half are trained to deal with this. So there is no shame if you find it tricky, awkward to ask or if you don’t know the answer. The most important thing is to talk-- and to admit it’s not easy. Just say that if you don’t know the answer, you will find out and share the resources. You will get a great deal of credit just for listening in this area.

Fortunately, there are some great tools online to help you and here is a link to some of them: MindAnxiety UK.

At MHFA, one of the things they do is always start meetings with this question: “How are you and what are you doing to look after yourself?” Simon says it's not the single answer that gives you the best clues - it’s the trend over time. For example, if on Monday all is well but by Friday your colleague hasn't left the house - well that enables you to spot changes over time - the best sign that something is wrong. So if you notice those changes then you can ask if those are conscious choices or if you should be worried about them.

3. What Can Teams Do Together to Boost Morale?

One thing we can do is use email less and the other visual mechanisms more. Start each meeting with a visual check-in and also be aware of whether there are any changes. And of course the other thing is to re-create ‘the moments of joy” or human connection that we enjoy at work. It could be a radio station meeting with music, or a song of the day, wearing silly hats or circulating pictures of pets. Or maybe sending 'work from home' care packages to colleagues. Create a moment of joy. Little things that can lift our spirits.

4. Self Care for Managers is Also Key - How Can Managers Look After Themselves?

Importantly, managers need to look after themselves. We are making tough decisions and need to practice self care. Here, peer support can be helpful. Build your own boundaries, and make more time for others and recognise that productivity may be impaired. So adjust your own priorities and look after your well-being. Eat well, don't drink too much, sleep well and exercise. And remember, everyone is feeling this and it isn’t business as usual. Be forgiving, be kind and be empathetic. Don't expect everyone to have everything buttoned up. It’s ok. Your people won’t and you won’t. As Simon said there's a lot of disappointment around. There’s a lot of hard work that isn’t going ahead. Lots of people are carrying that forward in the wider world and that inevitably impacts on our productivity. We are all in this together.

5. What Can Employers Do to Acknowledge and Deal With This Situation Better?

All organisations have a responsibility to look after their employees. Employers need to recognise that everyone is different and they understand these are extraordinary times. And that the organisation will endeavour to take care of their employees. And of course that means being open and honest. So don’t pretend. Go for good honest communication. Maybe it’s extraordinary leave or other steps, or using the full government interventions. Acknowledge that everyone will struggle. Lead with empathy. If you are furloughing employees or making redundancies due to economic impacts be honest but be empathetic.

And make use of mental health first aiders, employee assistance programmes and other coping mechanisms - including volunteer efforts and programmes- and make sure your people are aware of them. Finally, look for the positives to celebrate success and opportunities to strengthen the business wherever you can.

Getting through this is tough, but we will get through it better together. Hopefully this crisis will make us aware that managing our mental as well as physical health is critical to getting the best out of everyone at any time.

You can watch Ann Francke and Simon Blake in the webinar here.

Why not sign up to the next Better Manager's Briefing this Friday at 1.15pm, UK time?

Anne Francke

Anne Francke

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