How to support ‘languishing’ employees

Naomi Humber on boosting people’s emotional health on their return to normality.

As we approach the end of lockdown, it’s important to support your employees. When it comes to the workplace, good mental health and good management go hand in hand, and there is evidence that workplaces with high levels of wellbeing are more productive.

However, one feeling that has been shared by many recently is a general sense of emptiness and restlessness, referred to as ‘languishing’. It can also cause symptoms of burnout, no motivation, and a feeling of numbness. Although it isn’t a mental health condition, ‘languishing’ has surged in recent months and may increase your risk of a mental illness developing.

Recent research revealed that only 14% of those surveyed would reveal mental health conditions to managers, with a third (30%) telling no-one, either. Everyone’s experience of mental health is different and can change at different times, especially as we ease our way out of lockdown.

As a manager, it’s important to get to know your team and understand what they need and when.

Encourage your team to take their holidays

Everyone needs time to rest, relax and recharge their batteries, especially now. Having a good work-life balance will help them to avoid languishing, work-related stress, and burnout. Spending time away from work with the people we love is very important for good mental health, too.

Although it isn’t a mental health condition, ‘languishing’ has surged in recent months and may increase your risk of a mental illness developing

If you’ve noticed that your employees aren’t using their annual leave, as a manager there are a few things you can do. Firstly, make it clear that your direct reports shouldn’t feel bad about taking leave, and that you encourage it. Secondly, time off means time off. Set clear boundaries that they shouldn’t check their work emails or phone during their holidays.

Lead by example

As a manager, your employees look to you to set the standards that others will follow. To support your team to the best of your ability, it’s important to take care of your own health and wellbeing first. When your team observes you practising good working habits – like taking regular breaks and managing your stress levels – it sets the precedent for them to do the same. 

Healthy habits, such as getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of sleep, can reduce your risk of languishing. Not only is it important to physically switch off from work, but mentally too. You might find it helpful to go for a walk after work, read a good book or connect with your loved ones. Immerse yourself in something you enjoy helping you unwind.

Listen without judgement

Encouraging your employees to talk about their mental health might feel tricky at first but creating an open and honest atmosphere will help your employees to feel comfortable to speak about how they’re feeling.

It’s important that each of your team can talk to someone, without judgement and completely confidentially. Your team members may find it difficult to open up, however we can improve this situation by providing them with the right support. Something as simple as ‘How are you?’ is a good place to begin. All of us can make a difference, both by looking out for our colleagues and by taking care of ourselves.

If you’re worried that your colleague is languishing, choose honest and open questions rather than avoiding the issue completely or referring to it indirectly. The way you listen and respond could affect how much your colleague tells you and how comfortable they feel about further disclosure, too.

Show empathy and understanding by avoiding making assumptions about what they’re experiencing.

Organise regular check-ins

Good communication can help employees to feel valued, connected and reassured during this time, as well as reduce the risk of languishing. Set time aside each week for regular check-ins with all your employees to catch up about their workload and how they’re generally feeling.

Make sure your team knows you’re checking in on their wellbeing, and not ‘checking up’ on them, which can cause added stress and pressure. Try to understand and empathise with everyone’s own circumstances, monitor their workload, and make adjustments when needed to support them.

Offer clear wellbeing support

Research shows that almost half of employers offer some form of health and wellbeing services for their employees – and that’s encouraging to see. If you have mental health support available through your business, share this information with your team regularly. Be clear on how to get in touch with these services, and reiterate that you’re here to support them, too.

Don’t worry if you don’t have these services available, just be clear on what support there is and where they can seek help if they need to.


About the author

Naomi Humber is head of mental wellbeing at Bupa UK


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