Woah. There has been a lot of darkness over the past couple of weeks. Last week, I ventured out of my ordinary routine to check in on people (and myself), attend some educational events, and intentionally take some intermittent time off social media. I regularly coach leaders who are always trying to respond to traumatic events with empathy and understanding. But last week felt a bit different. While the events themselves may continue to evolve, what stays the same is the deep level of distress that people are feeling in their lives and the workplace. I’d hate to be the bearer of bad news but it doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.

(If you don’t believe me, keep reading – or, should I say, listening).

On this week’s episode of the Leading Below the Surface podcast, I discuss the effects of anxiety and trauma in the workplace and outline some concrete steps leaders can take to support employees through difficult situations — which I have summarized in this newsletter.

90% of U.S. adults believe the country is facing a mental health crisis

Global events have a direct impact on the stress levels and mental health of employees. A study by the American Psychological Association showed that global uncertainty is a top stressor for 81% of employees, as are supply chain issues (also 81%) and the higher cost of everyday items like gasoline, utilities, and groceries (87%).

The US 2024 Presidential election is already also a source of enormous unease. According to a recent poll, the top emotion felt by Americans about the election is dread (41%) followed closely by exhaustion (34%). Concerns about mental health and substance abuse that rose during the COVID-19 pandemic have not been assuaged, with 90% of American adults believing that the country is facing a mental health crisis. In many industries, anxiety is heightened by increased layoffs and the grief, anger, and distrust that comes with “workplace survivor syndrome.”

Leading below the surface means prioritizing the mental health of employees. 

Below the surface leaders may have already noticed some of the ways that stress impacts their workplaces, from low employee engagement, lack of focus, and decreased productivity, to an increase in absences and illnesses. Fortunately, there are things leaders can do to prioritize mental health and alleviate stress.

Build a collaborative culture with empathy (not sympathy) and psychological safety front-and-center. Make sure your organization is a safe place for all. In fact, employees can take the first steps towards accomplishing this goal. Require mutual respect, even when there are differing opinions (and remind employees of the company values that values are built on mutual respect). Encourage active listening and reflection before responding, especially during difficult conversations. If necessary, communicate anti-discrimination policies and be clear about what will not be tolerated. I discuss a few more ideas in the podcast, including using ERG-sponsored events to facilitate uncomfortable conversations. Listen in to learn more.

Engage in P2P (person-to-person) and P2B (person-to-belonging) listening to gain awareness around what’s going on with your employees. Both types of listening can signal when something is off. If you see something shift, acknowledge it and ask employees what type of support they might need. Don’t forget to validate experiences, even if you don’t fully understand them.

Have a focus and plan. When I was chatting with folks last week, I reminded them of the importance of not just trying to “wing it.” This doesn’t mean you should sound mechanical but, at the same time, it’s a good idea to create a short and long-term plan. Also, remember what your role is. For example, if you are a manager, remind yourself of the purpose of your job. It’s certainly not to push your personal beliefs onto your team (well, at the least the last time I checked). But seriously, refocus and consider how you want to show up.


How can Change Coaches help during these times? 

There are a few ways you can engage with us in these challenging times:

Check out our Leading in Today’s Workplace Leadership Academy Bundle.

Engage your middle managers or leadership team in our signature leadership accelerator  Coaching and Developing Leaders for Today’s Workplace.

Book us for expert listening sessions or to partner around creating a strategy around how to support employees in current times.

Inquire about our 1:1 Executive, Group, or Team Coaching Programs.


Additional Resource

Leading Below the Surface Podcast: How to Support Employees in Times of Distress

What does mental health have to do with below the surface leadership?