01 Aug How to Navigate Mental Health for Your Team Members
While working in the nonprofit sector can be immensely rewarding, this work can at times present unique challenges. The works long hours, emotional nature, and limited resources can take a toll on team members’ mental health and lead to burnout and vicarious trauma. Because of this, it is crucial for nonprofit leaders to prioritize their staff’s well-being and mental health and provide needed support. Identifying and implementing strategies to navigate mental health challenges for your team members and consciously implementing policies that foster a compassionate and engaging work environment are key to supporting a healthy workforce.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the critical nature of supporting employee mental health through safe working environments. “Safe and healthy working environments are not only a fundamental right but are also more likely to minimize tension and conflicts at work and improve staff retention, work performance, and productivity. Conversely, a lack of effective structures and support at work, especially for those living with mental health conditions, can affect a person’s ability to enjoy their work and do their job well; it can undermine people’s attendance at work and even stop people getting a job in the first place.” In a 2018 study, the WHO estimated that 12 billion working days are lost each year to depression and anxiety, for an approximated productivity loss to the United States of $1 trillion. Genuinely supporting employees’ mental health is, therefore, the right choice not only on a personal level but also on a business level.
Cultivate Open Communication
Creating a safe space for communication and honest conversations is critical to supporting mental health. You can encourage such an environment by encouraging team members to express their concerns, anxieties, struggles, and anything on their minds without fear of judgment. This requires that you, as a leader, truly “walk the walk” by being honest with those around you and respecting and holding their trust and confidence close. Regular and fully present check-ins, one-on-one meetings, and team-building exercises can also help to foster connections and build trust. This trust includes the work itself—be clear about what you need, and then step back and allow your team to make it work in whatever way is best for them. In all efforts, actively listen, show empathy, and validate their experiences. Take time to understand where they are coming from and what is underlying their current state. By nurturing open communication in a respectful and conscientious environment, you lay the foundation for a supportive work culture.
The Importance of Work-Life Balance
Nonprofit professionals often wear multiple hats and work tirelessly for their cause. This creates an environment ripe for overextending oneself, so it is vital to emphasize the importance of work-life balance to your team. Encourage everyone on the team—regardless of position—to take breaks and set boundaries. While your team likely has a deep emotional connection to their work, as a leader, it is essential to remind team members that the mission is not the only thing that matters. Reiterate to your team that if they do not care for themselves, they will not be able to care for others and fight for their cause. Implementing flexible working hours, remote work options, and providing resources such as mindfulness workshops and access to mental health benefits and professionals are excellent ways to begin this work. By promoting and openly incorporating a true work-life balance into your life, you empower your team to recharge and maintain their well-being.
Develop Mental Health Policies
Establishing clear mental health policies in accessible language demonstrates an organizational commitment to supporting all team members. Policies can include offering mental health days, reducing stigmas through awareness campaigns, and creating a culture of safety and support. In addition, these policies are strongly advised to offer confidential counseling and therapy sessions, and their usage is encouraged. Confidentiality is key here, as staff may be hesitant to use resources if they feel that use will come back negatively on them. Ensure that staff are aware of what is available to them and that they are encouraged to use these resources without hesitation.
Foster a Culture of Appreciation
Regularly and genuinely recognizing and appreciating your team’s work can provide a strong boost for employees who work long hours on challenging projects. In addition to recognizing accomplishments, celebrating career milestones and encouraging peer-to-peer recognition go a long way in boosting morale and fostering an environment of positivity. This is crucial in a field where the added emotion of the job can take a toll on individual contributors and teams alike, resulting in negative outcomes. “Putting one’s heart and soul into an under-resourced organization for the greater good can be exhausting in and of itself. Add to this the pressure of working with beneficiaries who may be experiencing major hardships, and the environment quickly becomes ripe for triggering existing mental health conditions or bringing latent ones to the surface.” Acknowledging the strain that employees may be under can also help them to feel seen and heard. However, this acknowledgment works best when followed by action and encouragement to use available mental health programs and resources.
Lead By Example
As much as the above considerations will help, one of the truly most influential elements in navigating mental health in nonprofit staff is the actions of leaders. Actions speak far louder than words, and, as the leader, you set the tone for the organization’s approach. Model healthy behaviors by prioritizing your mental health in a realistic way and be a bulwark against a culture of pushing oneself to the brink by taking a people-first approach. Show your team that there is strength in vulnerability and not to be afraid of sharing personal experiences or struggles, as this can reduce the stigma surrounding mental health as it relates to career progression opportunities. Lead with empathy and understanding, actively listen and learn, and provide guidance and resources when needed. Honestly encourage team members to take time off and prioritize their well-being and model what this behavior looks like. By leading by example, you will support the growth of a culture that values mental health and well-being-focused outcomes.
Nurturing the health of the individuals that comprise your nonprofit through mental health programs and mental health care is not just a compassionate endeavor; it is also essential for building resilient, long-standing, and effective organizations. By utilizing the aforementioned suggestions, you can enhance an environment that supports each individual team member’s holistic well-being. This leads to positive outcomes for your organization, employees, as well as those you serve.
In an article for the Bridgespan Group, Kelly Green reminds us of the prevalence of an unseen mental health crisis and how it affects employees and employers. She articulated, “At nonprofits, long hours and scarce resources are considered typical, but the high-pressure environment and deeply important work can trigger or exacerbate mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Nearly two-thirds of employees who suffer from a mental health condition will hide it from their coworkers, afraid of professional ramifications. Without organizational awareness and proper supports in place, these conditions can cripple productivity where it is needed most.”
Scion Executive Search can help build up your organization!
For organizations searching for new C-suite leaders that support safe work environments and a culture of mental health positivity and understanding, Scion Executive Search is here to assist and guide you! Our network of nonprofit leaders is extensive, and we are dedicated to supporting positive mental health outcomes and long-term solutions in the workplace. Contact us today to begin your company’s unique search for premiere talent or visit our website to find out more about our team, our values, and our proven search methods.
About the Author
Bailey Olderog, Technical Writer (she/her/hers)
Bailey Olderog brings her passion for storytelling and language to her role as technical writer at Scion Executive Search (SES). She is dedicated to telling the stories of others, and it has been her lifelong effort to make contributions that ensure that even the quietest of voices are heard.
Bailey has spent most of her career in service to those who serve. Her extensive public sector experience includes ghostwriting for elected officials and military generals, authoring investigations and public reports, and bringing a voice and audience to those without a platform. She believes language is an art and enjoys using language to advocate for others in ways that are professional, clear, and respectful.
Veterans’ mental health and support have been the guiding star in her career; Bailey volunteers at and has extensively advocated for veteran organizations in her native Texas. She has spent over a decade researching PTSD in veterans, using her research and connections to advocate for positive change and support for military families. She has written extensively on behalf of service members in need of assistance, as well as for military leaders seeking authentic ways to connect with their personnel. She has organized events and supported advocacy efforts for organizations such as Gideons 300 and Texas Veteran County Service Officers. On a nice day, you can often find her volunteering at a park or trail cleanup.
Bailey received her degree in political science from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where she also minored in studio art.