“How are you?” three little words that we say and hear so often that the question has lost impact and the answer is rarely listened to mindfully. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, the question should and has additional meaning and power. As a coach, it has become central to my conversations with clients.
In October 2020, Edmund O’Leary, an unemployed father of two in his 50s, tweeted “I am not ok. Feeling rock bottom. Please take a few seconds to say hello if you see this tweet. Thank you.” It quickly went viral. Viewed and shared millions of times and garnering hundreds of thousands of responses, it exemplified a collective sense of not being ok, and also a collective feeling of wanting to support others.1
O’Leary had the courage to be honest about his mental wellbeing and ask for help. However, many do not and it’s not only impacting people’s personal lives, but also their ability to do their jobs. In the UK alone, nearly 39 million days were lost in 2019/2020 through work-related ill health. Stress, depression or anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders accounted for the majority of these.2
Leaders are often less forthcoming than others when it comes to admitting that they’re not ok. There is a perception that as leaders we need to be strong on behalf of those we guide. But often strength comes in the form of vulnerability and the honesty to admit that being good at our jobs takes inner, as well as outer work. By looking after ourselves, we ensure we are resilient enough to care for others.
Coronavirus may be a predominantly physical health crisis, but it is shining a spotlight on mental wellbeing. Many of us are working from home, balancing childcare or other caring commitments, as well as relationships and the general anxiety that comes with living in a period of immense uncertainty. Additionally, there are more people out of work than we’ve seen in a generation. All this means we need to practice self-care and promote it throughout our organisations.
Studies show that mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic3. Additionally, mental health services across the world have been disrupted4. In light of this, it has never been more important for leaders to focus on their mental wellbeing, practice self-care and promote it throughout their organisations.
I have had numerous conversations with leaders since the beginning of the pandemic. Most have struggled with balancing their own wellbeing with that of their teams, communities, family and friends. Some have had to make tough decisions and others have had tough decisions forced upon them as a result of shifting dynamics and increasing uncertainty.
For example, I was speaking to a CEO who, having put childcare ahead of her organisation’s demands that she return to the office, quit her job. Since then, she had been in a state of panic. No one she had spoken to professionally had asked her “how are you?” and really listened to the answer. Having listened to how she felt, taken time to consider her mental wellbeing and given her the opportunity to reflect on her feelings she calmed. This leader began our conversation from a point of defence and ended in one of positivity.
Many leaders find taking time for themselves a challenge, but starting with “how are you” could be the trick to getting started. Below are three questions leaders can ask themselves today:
How are you thinking about self-care?
How are you making time for self-care?
How are you looking after the mental wellbeing of your teams?
The bottom line is that mental wellbeing boosts the bottom line. For that reason if no other, leaders should be making self-care a priority for themselves and their teams.