BusinessDay

How organisational interventions sustains leaders’ mental health (2)

The life of a leader is very structured, and service or employment brings with it important social contacts that allow for the networks and support that enhance mental health. It provides social status, a sense of purpose, and personal identity, which are altered or lost upon retirement, and suffering status loss affects high-status individuals more than their lower-status counterparts.

How leaders are expected to handle employees with mental health problems raises several interesting issues. Some experts have questioned whether traditional leadership theories, such as transformational leadership, would be equally appropriate for followers with an autism spectrum disorder. They showed that while inspirational motivation was associated with followers’ anxiety, individualised consideration directly affected organisational commitment and indirectly affected job performance. Some research expert has addressed this by developing a training program that successfully enhanced leaders’ abilities to deal with employees’ experiencing mental health issues suggesting that leaders who have experienced physical or psychological adversity will be more aware of and possibly more empathic toward their followers who might be suffering from mental illness themselves. We may need to investigate whether specific experiences predispose them in this way.

Leaders must know the importance of understanding the effects of minor illnesses, as it shows that daily variations in sleep quality were sufficient to predict leaders’ abusive supervision. In addition, it is also essential to consider the impact of positive physical health. Maintaining positive physical health, for example, by adhering to health-promoting behaviours such as eating a healthy diet or engaging in regular exercise, may better position leaders to engage in positive leadership behaviours.

Specifically, healthy leaders may have access to self-regulatory resources such as energy, vigour, and self-control that are critical for enacting positive leadership and suppressing or avoiding negative leadership behaviours. Some evidence suggests that executives who engage in regular exercise are objectively rated as higher on positive leadership indices (e.g., visionary thinking) than those who do not.

Some evidence suggests that executives who engage in regular exercise are objectively rated as higher on positive leadership indices (e.g., visionary thinking) than those who do not

While there is very little information relating specifically to the stigma experienced by leaders with mental health issues, there are several reasons why leaders might be more stigmatised than employees faced with similar mental health issues. First, leaders are expected to display strength and resilience; any indication that they do not do so would be perceived as role incongruent, and incidences of bias against female leaders underline how perceived role incongruence forms a basis for stigma. Second, leaders with diagnosed learning disabilities are less likely to emerge as leaders than their counterparts without a similar diagnosis, even though they are no less effective if they develop as leaders are compatible with a stigmatising effect. Third, although a physical challenge, leaders are equally affected by the negative stigma associated with being clinically overweight. Their status in such positions does not buffer against stigmatised expectations of their workplace performance.

Read also: How organizational interventions sustains leaders’ mental health

We need to understand more about the stigma faced by leaders with mental illness (and physical illness), as the existence of any stigma would plausibly decrease the likelihood of their seeking any form of assistance or counseling. This would be a significant missed opportunity because workplace interventions to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness are ineffective and even unaffordable. We need to investigate whether interventions can be designed for effective leaders and encourage leaders to seek treatment in the first place.

Finally, some organizations are not yet forthcoming in supporting employees’ physical and psychological well-being, as is witnessed by the workplace culture. They are yet to be involved in interventions designed to care for the mental health of those whose jobs require them to care for the well-being of others. However, what is missing to date is a concerted effort by organisations to take care of those who bear responsibility for the organisation’s well-being and its employees. Even when human resources experts have focused on leadership interventions and well-being, the focus has been on implementing leadership interventions to benefit employees’ well-being alone and not enhance leaders’ mental health.

At a general level, cognitive-behavioural interventions are the most effective of all occupational stress management techniques, and programs of shorter duration are the most effective, perhaps making such interventions more attractive to time-pressured leaders. Experts have shown how unobtrusive mindfulness interventions reduce emotional exhaustion and sleep quality, and duration problems in a somewhat different approach, all of which affect leadership quality.

These interventions’ inconspicuous and short-term duration may make them more attractive to senior leaders, given the time pressures and possible humiliations they face. More specifically, interventions for managers can help them identify signs that their employees might be experiencing mental health issues and how to support them. Such efforts could be extended to help managers understand when their senior leaders are experiencing mental health issues and how they might be supported.

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