How to Create an Atmosphere Where Mental Health is Put First for Employees

Small Business Canada
Image courtesy – Avail Leadership

Michael Timms, Founder of Avail Leadership

Michael Timms is a leadership development consultant, author, and speaker specializing in succession planning and creating accountable cultures. His latest book How Leaders Can Inspire Accountability has been praised as “the ultimate guide for embracing accountability as a leader!”

How will you describe your journey as a leadership development consultant and best-selling author?

I began my career as a manager and then director of human resources in the construction and manufacturing industries.  I noticed how poor leadership in those organizations negatively affected my well-being and my performance, as well as the overall corporate culture.  I created my own leadership development consultancy to make it easier for everyone to be an extraordinary leader who elevates those they lead.

I work with client organizations that want my help to improve the leadership impact and development of their managers.  One of the first things I do is help them establish a common definition and description of leadership for their organization.  They then use this as the criteria for promotion to leadership positions.  

To accomplish this, I work with management and non-management focus groups to reverse engineer their success stories to identify patterns of behaviour that led to those successful outcomes.  Although the highest impact leadership behaviours differ somewhat between organizations, one leadership competency comes up in virtually every focus group I facilitate accountability

Canada business people meeting
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I have been researching, writing, and speaking about how to create a culture of accountability ever since.  My latest book, How Leaders Can Inspire Accountability is the first of three books in the Creating Accountability Series.

2. Since access to mental health resources has become more important, isn’t it also necessary for organizations to create an atmosphere where mental health is put first for employees?

Unless organizations articulate and promote a “people-first” philosophy in their organization, the default philosophy will be profit first, customers second, products and services third, and employees a distant fourth priority.  This is the way most business owners today think of their business.  However, this is not a sustainable model.  Nothing else matters in a business if employees aren’t physically or mentally well.  None of the other business goals can be met until employees’ needs are first met.

Employers with a people-first mindset give employees a noble purpose to strive for instead of trying to motivate them with financial incentives.  The best managers regularly ask employees what is taking up most of their emotional energy at work and at home to identify ways the manager can modify employees’ work arrangements to reduce their emotional strain.  The best managers also ensure that the employee’s work is aligned with their strengths and life goals.

Workplaces like this do exist but they don’t appear spontaneously.  These priorities and behaviours need to be articulated and modelled by the CEO and other executives before the rest of the managers will follow suit.

3. As building trust among employees is one of the keys to the success of the organization, how do you think leaders can do so?

The typical answer to this question is to follow through on your commitments.  However, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t already think they follow through on their commitments, so that’s not particularly helpful advice.

Here are five high-impact behaviours all managers can do to increase trust among those they lead.

  1. Agree on Expectations.  When relationships fail, it’s usually because one or both parties feel the other is not meeting their expectations. The first step toward building a foundation of trust is to agree on the most important things each party needs from the other to be successful and enjoy their work.
  2. Meet Regularly One-On-One. Schedule time each week to meet individually with each of your direct reports to ensure that the work is being done well and that the people doing the work are doing well.
  3. Request Feedback and Accept It With Gratitude. One of the quickest ways to increase mutual respect and trust with another person is to ask them for advice on how you can improve.
  4. Don’t Blame. Nothing kills trust quicker than blame. Instead of asking “Who did this?”, ask “Where did the process break down?”
  5. Admit Mistakes. The courage to take accountability for problems is the price of leadership and is quite possibly the most powerful way to earn the trust and respect of others precisely because it is so difficult.
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4. How do kindness and accountability contribute to creating the most engaged and successful work cultures? Does it help in the success of the organization?

Creating a culture of accountability is kindness.  It means setting your people up for success by clarifying expectations, meeting with them regularly to support them in their work and personal life, resisting the urge to blame when things go wrong, and creating psychological safety by requesting feedback and admitting mistakes.  This is the kindest workplace I can think of.

I remember one time that a team member in my consultancy accidentally deleted a survey template. We didn’t have another copy saved, so my assistant and I felt frustrated and annoyed with this employee. Instead of blaming her, we asked ourselves, “How did we contribute to the problem?” On putting our heads together, we realized that there were no safety protocols in place to protect these templates. A simple solution was to create a folder to store copies of all our templates to prevent that mistake from reoccurring. Had we not taken accountability for that problem, we would have likely taken it out on this employee which would have undoubtedly been a distressing (and unnecessary) conversation for her.  

Accountable workplaces are the most psychologically safe organizations.  They get the right results more often as everyone focuses on what is wrong and how to fix it rather than who is wrong. 

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5. What are the mistakes that leaders make that lead to their failure in the company?

The three most common mistakes leaders make that lead to dysfunctional corporate cultures and poor results are:

  1. Blaming other people or circumstances for problems and permitting others to blame.
  2. Failing to admit how they have contributed to the organization’s problems.
  3. Focusing on fixing or firing people instead of focusing on fixing processes.

Nobody will demonstrate accountability to a higher degree than their leader does.  Leaders set the upper limit of accountability for their organization.  The best leaders discipline themselves to set the supreme example of accountability by modelling the three habits of personal accountability:

  1. Don’t Blame.  Blame kills accountability.
  2. Look in the Mirror.  Acknowledge your part in the problem.
  3. Engineer the Solution.  Fix processes, not people.

The more leaders model accountability, the more employees will feel safe to emulate them, and the better the organization will perform.

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