Being a leader today means more than just directing work and driving results. You also have to improve employee engagement in a hybrid reality, to support and develop your people, and to model great behaviours, all while dealing with your own struggles and anxiety – no easy feat.

To top it off, the labour shortage and the intolerance to uncertainty caused by the pandemic, which has led to unprecedented levels of information overload, have left most overwhelmed and tired. As a leader, people look up to you for answers and support, and the only way to do this is to be at the top of your game.

I recently read a study recommending that most adults be screened for anxiety disorders and depression. Although not surprising, it is very alarming. Having gone through some personal challenges myself in the last year, I have grown an interest in finding ways to cope with stress and anxiety and making sure I am in the right place mentally and physically. Just as flight attendants carefully explain before take-off, I needed to put my own oxygen mask on before attempting to help those around me, being there for my children and friends, and supporting my team.

It got me thinking; are we doing enough to support leaders? To help them put on their own oxygen mask?

Here is what is on my priority list as a talent development practitioner and people leader, and should probably be on yours too!

A Wellness Program is not a nice-to-have, it is essential

In the aftermath of the pandemic, organizations have to step up with a strong vision to promote well-being. The great news is that we are already seeing an increased offering, as mental health issues take the centre stage in their wellness agenda.

The most effective strategies I have seen through research involve personalizing wellness programs to maximize impact and better support employees in achieving their individual goals, helping leaders discuss well-being appropriately with their teams and reducing stigma around mental health.

Top of mind for people leaders should be creating a strong culture of well-being in the workplace – and their own lives.

Integrate psychological safety and self-care practices into an existing learning program

Underneath all the safety, health, and fitness programs companies are offering is a pressing need for human-centred leadership. In a post-pandemic world, those who connect with their team on a personal level will be the ones who thrive and retain talent the most. Building relationships with trust and safety at the very heart can improve employee experience and productivity, while creating a safe space where people don't have to worry about being judged for admitting that they are not okay. Vulnerability strengthens relationships, and in order for others to embrace vulnerability, we need to be vulnerable ourselves.

“Building relationships with trust and safety at the very heart can improve employee experience and productivity while creating a safe space where people don’t have to worry about being judged for admitting that they are not okay.”

There is no “one-size-fits-all” self-care plan, but nowadays, we have access to a variety of resources, and simple practices can be easily integrated into all existing programs, covering all facets of holistic health from physical, psychological and emotional to social, intellectual and spiritual.

Prioritize bite-sized learning

I personally have never been a fan of long, full-day workshops. And now more than ever, in this era of information overload where people are overwhelmed with a growing workload and dozens of emails a day, we can’t expect them to be as focused or to retain as much information. Instead, focus on one habit or skill at a time, delivered in small and focused chunks, give your leaders time in between sessions to put into practice what they learned, and repeat.

To further optimize learning, foster environments where leaders can exchange ideas and share experiences. As social creatures, we learn by observing others, but also from each other. Social learning, introduced by psychologist Albert Bandura, enables employees to take responsibility for their own journey while enhancing culture and workplace collaboration.

Talk about mental health, often

A sizeable percentage of adults are struggling with mental health issues; it is human. While the significant increase in discussions surrounding mental health – a silver lining of the pandemic – has helped raise awareness and eliminate the associated stigma, it will take more than a dedicated day, week or month to have a tangible and sustainable impact.

In the workplace, culture is a powerful tool to drive change. Talking about mental health can be tricky and terrifying, but the more you address the issues proactively, the better chance you have at breaking the cycle. So talk about it, invite others to talk about it, and listen actively.

As an organization, normalize and support mental health by embedding mental health considerations holistically in as many programs as possible, investing in training, and developing resources and learning opportunities for both employees and leaders.

Even in the most uncertain of times, leaders still have to support their team members. Let’s make sure we check in with them too.