“I’m a supervisor, not a therapist!”

Taking Care of Business

No amount of work success can erase the challenges we experience outside of work. In simple terms, our personal life will always show up in our professional life. For decades, research investigated the impact of job stress on family life. Only recently have we begun studying the effects of home life on our job performance. 

While all of us possess some capacity to keep these worlds separate in attitude and performance, today’s highly complex and volatile atmosphere is upsetting our “work/life balance.” Because of that struggle, leaders are now asking, “Is it my responsibility to help employees manage and even navigate personal challenges?” More specifically, “Am I supposed to be a quasi-therapist for employees overwhelmed with personal difficulties?” In our current world, inside and outside the workplace, it’s a question we can no longer afford to ignore.

Here are some common examples:

  1. An employee is grieving the passing of a child and is occasionally spotted sobbing in his or her workstation space. 
  2. Due to financial hardships, an employee is receiving continuous calls from creditors at work.
  3. An employee’s spouse has recently been sentenced to prison and the details are widely known in the community — including gossip in the workplace.
  4. An employee notifies you about a recent personal medical diagnosis of a terminal disease.

Logic dictates that those trained in managing traumatic events should intervene and help. But many of our front-line supervisors and middle managers are not qualified to diagnose mental health issues or prescribe healing remedies. As such, supervisors should avoid providing therapy or counseling without appropriate and licensed training. 

Thankfully, most workplaces offer a host of services and resources to support employees under various Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Yet, even with these resources, there are actions people-managers can take to support the mental health and well-being of employees. For instance: 

  1. Create a mutually trusting relationship with employees.
  2. Provide employees necessary breaks throughout the day to rest and recalibrate.
  3. Promote and practice mindfulness techniques.
  4. Be willing to ask your employee personal questions and make time for longer discussions.

One of the most critical steps people-managers can take is creating a healthy workplace environment where employees feel safe, valued and supported. When leaders nurture a “psychologically safe” workplace, research suggests that employee performance improves, creating stronger and more cohesive teams, and ultimately, positively impacting an organization’s bottom-line. 

When people-managers are intentional about creating and sustaining a workplace culture that supports the mental health of employees, research and reality indicate the following tangible benefits:

  • 27 percent reduction in turnover
  • 50 percent more productivity
  • 76 percent more engagement
  • 74 percent less stress
  • 57 percent workers are more likely to collaborate

Life is hard. Balancing personal and professional responsibilities can be overwhelming at times. Eventually, these challenges negatively affect our job performance. At the same time, supervisors are being tasked to do more with less. While no one expects them to be clinical therapists, people-managers should intentionally focus on employee well-being. When leaders create a workplace culture that supports employee mental health, the personal and professional results will speak for themselves. 

Dr. Steven Ruggerio and Ron J. Clark are Partners with LEADwell LLC. They can be reached at info@leadwell.agency or 757-873-1610.