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Strong, productive, well: A 4-step guide for business owners

Registered Psychotherapist and Certified Canadian Counsellor, Bonnie J. Skinner shares simple steps for success for business leaders looking to support the mental health in the workplace

With the COVID-19 pandemic re-igniting the conversation about workplace mental health, many business owners are left wondering about their roles and responsibilities. Without clear guidance, too many owners are left to rely on traditional expectations of the “leave your feelings at the door” variety further compounding the difficulties for their employees and their business.

In my coaching and psychotherapy practice, a common fear most executives share is not knowing what to do or say when a staff member becomes emotional. Most fear making the matter worse for their staff member, while a few have also expressed fear of becoming emotional themselves. Far too many see emotion as weakness to be avoided, creating disastrous consequences for their workforce and bottom line.

If you are a business leader looking to support the mental health of your workforce, here are the 4 simple steps to success:

Step 1: Lead from the Front

Be the one to start the conversation on workplace wellness. Help your workforce understand the demands of their roles and what it can look like to struggle with those demands. If maintaining wellness is an ongoing conversation, employees will feel less need to hide their struggles and more apt to look for solutions before the situation becomes dire.

Question to consider:

  • How do you know when you are burning out?
  • What will you do if those signs appear?

Tips - Have the team share strategies or create a buddy system where co-workers periodically check in on each other.

Step 2: Small Steps for Big Change

To make the most out of your workplace wellness initiatives, focus on fostering community, connection and healthy choices. Avoid programs that are complex, expensive or difficult to sustain in the long term.

Some small but effective examples include providing flavoured water in the breakroom to encourage hydration or replacing sugar laden staff meeting snacks with fresh fruit and veggies. Ensure employees are taking their breaks and, where possible, provide comfortable outdoor seating for a chance to get some sunshine and fresh air. To support the end of day transition, create a positive check-out board where employees can post any “wins” they achieved that day.

These activities take only a tiny investment up front compared to the gains in workforce health, wellness and productivity.

Step 3: Don’t Freak over Feelings!

The world of business tends to attract leaders who work well with logic and structure. For these types, employee emotions can feel like skydiving without a parachute! Being a compassionate leader does not mean having to “play therapist” nor does it require you to provide staff with answers to personal problems. It does, however, require you to acknowledge that learning how to manage struggle on the way to success is a necessary part of the human journey. Once you accept this, the rest comes a lot easier.

If a member of your team comes to you with an emotional struggle, follow these 4 steps:

1. Adopt a position of curiosity. This will keep you from judging and/or panicking. Be curious about your employee’s perspective. Ask questions to help you understand their struggle and any assistance they are asking from you.

2. Validate. Always validate first. Statements such as, “I really appreciate you letting me know you are struggling” can go a long way towards helping your staff member feel heard and respected. Validation is not about agreement, it is about respecting that your staff have their own perspectives.

3. Solve. If your staff member has come with a request, consider your ability to meet that demand and reply honestly. If it is a demand you cannot meet, let them know you want to work with them and invite other options. If no other feasible options are suggested, suggest one or two of your own that work within the constraints you face.

4. Follow up. If you are serious about creating a community of wellness, find ways to follow up with staff who have expressed difficulty. If they are out of office, consider sending a hand-written note to check in. If they are at work swing by their cubical or send a quick email to check in, letting them know you were thinking of them. The follow up lets your staff know they are cared about and considered a valuable part of your team.

Step 4: Build Your Emotional Intelligence

Being afraid or uncomfortable with the emotions of others says a lot about how we manage our own. As leaders, it is essential that we understand the human emotional experience and have insight into our own. This can be done through self study but is best done through the support and guidance of a coach, counsellor or mental health professional. Building your EQ will help you better understand the experiences of your workforce and provide support without becoming overwhelmed, or avoidant.

Notes to remember:

  • You do NOT have to solve the problem.
  • Be honest. If you don’t know, say so. A healthy environment is one where everyone can be authentic, even you!
  • When you focus on building connection, trust and community, health and wellness takes care of itself.

Looking for more ways to support the mental health of your team or organization? We can help! Contact Us for a free consultation.

Bonnie J. Skinner is a Registered Psychotherapist and Certified Canadian Counsellor. Having developed her career in community based mental health across Canada, Bonnie now owns and operates a practice in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario where she helps individuals, couples , families and organizations overcome obstacles to their chosen goals. Learn more at