Are you paying attention to your team's mental health?

By Tammy Robertson
May 9, 2024
Photo credit: Tassii/E+/Getty Images

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How are your team members doing on a scale of one to 10? Have you asked them recently? Not long ago, it was considered intrusive—even irrelevant—to ask questions about mental wellness in the workplace. Compassion was seen as too “soft” for the real world of business, and we were told to “check our feelings at the door.”

If you’ve been paying attention, you know expectations today are completely different, particularly as the “Great Resignation” has morphed into the Great Retirement/Reflection/Awakening and, most recently, the Great Exhaustion. Fear and anxiety are natural responses in times of massive change, uncertainty, division, and disconnect, and how leaders address this reality will largely determine how their teams feel, how engaged they are, and how resilient and successful they can be.

Pay attention to the signs

If your photocopier started smoking and making weird noises, you would stop to investigate it. And yet when people signal in all kinds of ways that they are not okay, many leaders ignore the signs and press on—in the end, actually treating people worse than machines.

That needs to change, because here’s what research is telling us:

  • Only 21% of Canadian employees are engaged. The remaining 79% are not engaged (“quiet quitting”) or are actively disengaged (“loud quitting”).1
  • 56% of Canadians are experiencing a lot of daily stress.2
  • 78% of workers in Canada have a moderate to high mental health risk.3

There’s an inverse correlation between engagement and stress—the higher the former, the lower the latter. So how can leaders increase engagement? You need to pay attention to the signs and determine how to shift organizational culture to truly support the mental wellness of your team.

Five ways to support your team’s mental health:

  1. Normalize the conversation

    Are you more likely to acknowledge someone who has broken their leg than someone who is feeling anxious? Do you feel comfortable talking about health and safety policies but wince at the idea of asking people about their stress level? Do you offload mental and emotional health to “programs and policies” and bypass conversations that could bring these policies to life?

    If so, it’s time to change your approach. Having policies, programs, and procedures around mental health is not enough. You can’t outsource care to another department—what makes a difference is showing up every day and demonstrating care in real time. And the more willing you are to talk about mental health, the more people will believe that you (and the organization) support their well-being.

  2. Check in mindfully

    We spend most of our waking lives at work, and it can feel incredibly lonely when others know nothing about us beyond our job title. Unfortunately, many leaders are in such a hurry to get things done that they don’t make time for conversations that aren’t task-oriented. And yet asking people how they are and taking a moment to acknowledge them is a simple sign of caring that builds trust and engagement.

    Think about how you’re checking in with people in your one-on-ones and in your team meetings. Do you offer only a quick hello before getting down to business? Or are you making time for more meaningful interactions?

  3. Show compassion

    In these tumultuous times, employees are in desperate need of empathy from their leaders, but many leaders are just too exhausted to care. Some are even experiencing “empathy fatigue”—the feeling of being depleted or numb as a result of caring too much.

    Leaders need to strike a balance. Showing compassion doesn’t mean taking on the problems of others and running yourself ragged in the process. It means holding space, listening, and acknowledging. Often, it is simply a matter of saying, “That sounds hard.” You don’t need to be a therapist to show compassion—a kind gesture of understanding is all that is needed.

    And remember, if someone tells you they’re struggling, the fact that they’re verbalizing their struggle will not make the situation worse. The expression of an emotion is not the cause of an emotion; rather, it is the release of an emotion.

  4. Prioritize psychological safety

    The #1 characteristic of a high-performing team is psychological safety, according to research done by Google.4 When this exists, people feel comfortable offering ideas and opinions even if these ideas and opinions are not fully formed, that they can make mistakes and learn from them, and that they can challenge their boss’s opinions, ideas, and decisions. This freedom correlates to lower anxiety and a higher sense of significance, value, and confidence.

  5. Be much more curious

    The best leaders ask way more questions—big, open-ended questions that spark thinking.5 They also give people time to think before responding. Are you asking for this kind of input from your team?

    People who believe their ideas matter at work report much higher levels of mental wellness.6 They are less likely to report burnout or develop physical illnesses, and they are more likely to demonstrate resilience in the face of change and uncertainty.

The call for more humane leadership

Shifting away from old, hardwired beliefs about leadership is a huge challenge, but today’s leaders must adopt a more compassionate approach if they want to drive engagement and build resilience.7 Thankfully, more and more leaders are taking on this challenge, and they’re building incredible cultures!

This article was originally published in the May/June 2024 issue of CPABC in Focus.


Tammy Robertson has almost 30 years of experience as a professional speaker, author, and life leadership coach. She is the president of WorkHeart Consulting, a faculty member for both the Banff Centre and the University of Calgary, and the instructor of CPABC’s Resilient Leadership and Advanced Resilient Leadership certificate programs.


2 Ibid.

5 John Hagel III, “Good Leadership Is About Asking Good Questions,” Harvard Business Review, January 8, 2021.

6 For example, in the November 2022 TELUS Mental Health Index report, respondents who said their ideas are valued at work had a significantly higher mental health score (as measured by the Mental Health Index) than those who disagreed or were unsure.

7 Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli, Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference, 2019.

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