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Leaders Must Protect Their Mental Health During COVID-19: Here’s How

Posted on 8th September 2020 by Jo Lothian

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Great leaders share a common characteristic: their willingness to confront challenges with innovative solutions. At times, it can feel as if the weight of the entire world is on their shoulders, and they are expected to rise to the occasion.

With the COVID-19 global pandemic, leaders are faced with an unprecedented number of difficult situations. The simultaneous closure of the global economy has left leaders in uncharted waters without the resources needed to make tough choices. Daily, they are faced with keeping their businesses operational and safeguarding their workforce, without the benefit of a road map to help guide them.

Six months into the pandemic and the anxiety and stress involved with being tasked with making these decisions are having a profound effect on the mental health and well-being of leaders across the globe. Now more than ever, it is imperative that leaders protect their mental health as they navigate through this new normal.

Contributing Factors

Being a leader has always meant taking responsibility for the growth and productivity of employees under their care. As if that was not stressful enough, leaders now are expected to be healthcare experts, tending to the physical and mental well-being of employees. The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated matters by adding an extra layer of accountability. It is difficult for leaders to know how best to protect their team when the advice of medical experts continually shifts. Trying to keep up with the latest protocols can feel like a full-time job.

A sudden shift in the way teams communicate during the pandemic is another contributing factor to leadership stress and anxiety. Figuring out how to communicate, how often to communicate, and what to communicate to help their employees maintain productivity while working from home complicates overall management. Leaders who are not used to managing a remote workforce may find themselves more stressed as they scramble to find workable solutions.

Dealing with cost-cutting, layoffs, and plummeting stock prices leads to long hours for leaders. Longer hours working means fewer hours sleeping. Leaders are better equipped to handle the stressors of their jobs with adequate sleep.

Avoiding Burnout

Leaders often are so busy worrying about the health and well-being of their staff that they ignore their own needs. Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, little has been done to shift that priority. The continued focus has been on how leaders can help and support their employees, with little guidance on how they can support themselves. 

Here are things leaders can do to help prevent burnout.

Self-care is important. It is essential to protect the health and well-being of employees, but leaders cannot serve from an empty vessel. Prioritising self-care does not make a person a weak leader. It makes them a wise one. We all need to take some time out, a few days off when we can to ensure we are rested and looking after ourselves.

Look for opportunity. During these devastating economic times, it is tempting to focus on the negative. Dig deep to discover ways to clarify the purpose of your leadership and for innovative ways to help employees uncover theirs. Then, devise a plan to work together to pool your collective talents to survive and thrive. The MAYDAY leadership team have used this time to strategise, invest in marketing, get creative, and reconnect with old contacts. This has already opened new and unexpected doors of opportunity for our business.

Find your tribe. Even leaders need and benefit from the support of a tribe — their go-to people when they need to collaborate on new ways to tackle problems, maintain perspective, or find objectivity. Social distancing has disrupted our tribe mentality. Even though the interaction may look and feel different, it is still possible to find and connect with your tribe in meaningful ways. And you tribe can reach further afield… MAYDAY’s Lynne and Kat are both members of professional networking groups where they can discuss challenges and sound-board ideas with other business leaders, which has been invaluable as we navigate our new landscape.

Find a balance. Maintaining work-life balance was already challenging for most leaders before the pandemic hit. It can feel even more impossible now. It is crucial to carve out time for yourself away from the stressors of work. It may require a little more creativity during a pandemic, but it is possible. It could be yoga, meditation, or even just some time every day to walk and gather your thoughts… find whatever works for you!

Leaders who burn out are not an asset to anyone. While it may feel like the added stressors associated with the pandemic will never end, things will return to some sense of normalcy. Stay the course, and remember that the most effective leaders are those who know their limits.

If you’d like to know more about how the MAYDAY leadership team have handled new stresses over the last few months, and the strategies they use to stay calm and focused, then reach out to our Managing Director, Lynne Johnston on 02 8377 5600.