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While mental health was once a taboo topic in the workplace, many high-profile campaigns have encouraged a more open attitude towards it. As employees become more willing to talk about their mental wellbeing, do leaders need to be better prepared to support them?

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC has created many challenges for employers, but supporting employees who are struggling with mental health issues has been one of the most complex. From anxiety over their physical health, to experiencing loneliness while working remotely, many workers have suffered from additional mental strain in 2020.
Aside from the ethical duty employers have to their employees, there are financial implications too. Internationally, the World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety issues cost the global economy $1 trillion a year in lost productivity.This year, the challenge is likely to have grown. According to the same research from Ginger, of the 88 per cent of workers who reported experiencing moderate to extreme stress, 62 per cent noted losing at least one hour a day in productivity and 32 per cent lost at least two hours a day due to Covid-19-related stress.The figures suggest it is important for employers to take these challenges more seriously, and take more responsibility for the mental health and wellbeing of their people. 
But what does this mean for leaders? Whether they are executives or managers, should they be equipped with the skills and knowledge to identify any potential issues and offer support to anyone who is struggling? Or should this already be part of their skill set?

 “It’s critically important for organisations to ensure their leaders have the right leadership skills to create an engaging and inclusive environment,” comments Mark Edgar, Co-Founder of future foHRward in Canada. “More specifically, skills that increase awareness and confidence around managing mental health issues are a very important component of leadership development.”
Yet Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio, a licensed therapist, author and leadership adviser in the US, believes that training leaders on awareness of mental health issues, while helpful, misses the heart of the matter. “Leaders need to be educated on leadership skills. Effective leaders develop respectful, caring, trusting relationships with those who report to them. If you’ve got highly effective leadership, you’ve got what you need for a mentally healthy workplace culture.”

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