4 Ways To Support Your Team’s Mental Health

Anna Mittag encourages leaders to remember, “People are pretty much always doing their best.”

When Anna Mittag began her career as a lawyer, she quickly noticed a concerning pattern of overwork among colleagues. Mittag observed many people coping with the intense demands of their jobs by “outsourcing the living of their lives,” as she puts it.

“I would look around at the corner office partners, who often had spouses or partners themselves in equally high-powered jobs,” Mittag recalls. “They were stressed to the max. They were outsourcing the living of their lives, the raising of their children, cooking meals, this, that, and the other thing.”

The damage done to families and relationships was something Mittag was determined to avoid, informing her decision to raise her two children as a stay-at-home parent in their infancy. When the time was right for Mittag to return to work in 2005, she knew she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and pursue work that would help other people.

Mittag eventually connected with Michael Held, CEO of , a digital mental health and wellbeing platform. They connected over the experience of watching coworkers struggle to balance their jobs with their mental health.

“Michael was working at a consultancy firm and people would come into his office all the time talking about how they were burnt out. ‘Why can everybody else deal with all the stress and I can’t?’ Having those conversations over and over again shows you everybody is struggling the same way,” Mittag says.

That shared compassion and concern for overworked, burnt out professionals bought Mittag into the LifeSpeak mission, where she now serves as Chief Product Officer. While the company began by offering live sessions with subject matter experts, LifeSpeak now primarily acts as a digital content hub. Mittag is the one driving that content’s direction.

“The fundamental principles upon which the company is built haven't changed at all,” she explains. “It's education. Education gives people agency. It gives them the agency they need to make necessary changes in their lives.”

These are Mittag’s top four pieces of advice for leaders and managers who want to better support the mental health of their teams.

“People are best at knowing what they can do and need to do for themselves,” Mittag says. “And giving them the tools or the agency to do that is the best we can possibly do.”

In other words, ask people what they need from you and really listen. Accommodate specific requests within reason, and if you can’t, provide concrete reasons as to why.

Don’t shy away from addressing difficult topics without the use of euphemism or hyperbole, but also don’t pry or otherwise try to play the role of therapist. If that’s the type of help someone needs, it can be invaluable to provide a list of pre-approved professionals in your organization’s healthcare plan (if there is one), broken down by specialty.

Don’t get in the habit of sending pre-prepared emails stuffed with information individuals may not want or need. Not only will they be less likely to make use of it, but your gestures toward support will also seem insincere. In a world of super-specific search queries and results, the least you can do is point people toward what will actually help them.

It’s also important to ask yourself: why is this person reaching out for support and what does that support look like? The way you choose to provide information or resources will be informed by the answers to these questions.

“Ask, ‘Okay, what does it feel like to receive something in this way?’” Mittag says. “Would it be better if I received it in X way, or Y way? If the information takes a long time to get to the point, is that going to be a turn off? Or am I person who appreciates plenty of context?”

Not only will this kind of thinking help you provide specific mental health support to your team, but it will also improve your management communication overall.

Immediately actionable advice is a foundational principle of LifeSpeak’s content, according to Mittag: “Anybody who watches a module has to leave with at least one implementable, practical, tip or strategy.”

Dumping information and options onto someone can be overwhelming rather than helpful. Spelling out the clear next steps and action items can go a long way in supporting someone’s ability to start making changes, and making them right away.

It shouldn’t surprise any manager that the quality of their leadership impacts the mental health of their direct reports. This is especially important to remember when providing critical feedback or addressing performance problems. The way managers handle negative conversations can make the difference in these situations improving or steadily becoming worse: when employees dread negative conversations, problems are more likely to go unaddressed and hidden under the radar before inevitably turning into a firefight.

Anna Mittag encourages leaders to remember, “People are pretty much always doing their best. They’re trying to do the best job possible, and I really believe that.”

Approaching conversations from a perspective of good intentions on the part of your direct reports, rather than malicious ones, builds the trust required for these ongoing conversations to be successful. When you are curious about why someone is failing to meet expectations, they are more likely to be open and honest. Not only will that person get the help they really need from you, their performance will likely improve more rapidly as a result.