Mental health is a topic that has come into the spotlight in workplaces.

It’s a positive step to acknowledge that mental health is like any other health condition and should be treated with care. In the executive environment, work and life pressures can soon add up to exacerbate mental health issues and administrative professionals are often at ground zero.

In the U.S., one in five adults will experience mental illness each year. Mental illness comes in different forms, but it’s well-known that stress can contribute to depression, which is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting 16 million U.S. adults each year. There’s a good chance that at some point in your career, you or people you work with will be impacted.

Whether it’s your mental health, or an executive’s, APs are in a position to support mental health in the workplace. We’ve put together a few ideas for doing so:

Support mental health awareness at work

One of the basic steps an AP can take is to promote any mental health awareness policies your workplace already has. If there aren’t any, you’re probably in a position where you can raise the need to put some in place.

What is mental health awareness at work? It can cover anything from normalizing mental health as a priority, to talking about how to look after our mental health, to putting policies in place and making team members aware.

Administrative professionals are typically great at putting together research on topics such as mental health awareness. You might create a presentation for your executive team to share, or even be part of the sharing and implementation.

You can certainly play a key role in normalizing the mental health conversation. For many years, mental health issues were stigmatized, and to some extent, they still may be. Talking about mental health and showing acceptance of it as a health need can go a long way toward helping.

Know the signs of burnout

Burnout is a common issue among the workforce, especially for those who work long hours in stressful or highly responsible positions. Many administrative professionals experience it and so do a lot of executives.

What is burnout? It is described as severe stress that can lead to physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Burnout tends to lead to a fatigue that makes it difficult to cope with stress, or even just ordinary responsibilities. It can lead to other mental health issues such as depression, and can even manifest as physical illness, such as heart disease.

Some classic signs of burnout include: fatigue, irritability, forgetfulness, frequent illnesses and feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes the sense of overwhelm means the person will isolate themselves from others.

Burnout often happens among people who have a strong drive or ambition. These people tend to push themselves to work harder and often will neglect their personal needs to keep working. You might notice an executive who works excessive hours, is always “on” for work at weekends and who never seems to take proper meal breaks. As an AP, that’s something to be aware of in yourself too!

Managing burnout

Some of the top ways to prevent burnout include getting enough exercise, eating properly, getting enough quality sleep, and getting help. Help could come from a physician or therapist, but it can also include simply asking for help - letting people know that your plate is too full.

As an AP, you might support an executive in scheduling those healthy habits. You have the keys to their calendar so you can make sure they have times booked as buffers between meetings and to take lunch. If it falls under your job description, you might even make arrangements for healthy meal deliveries.

If you have a close relationship with your executive and you notice signs of burnout, you might feel comfortable enough to have a gentle conversation about it. Find out how you could support them further.

Actively help to manage stress

There are many things, big and small, an administrative professional can do to help manage stress in the workplace. Staying on top of scheduling can help to minimize additional stress or disruptions.

Having good, repeatable systems and processes is another way to minimize stress. It means that people don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time and know where to go for information. APs are great at making order out of chaos and systemizing where possible, a great way to support the team or their executive.

Being proactive about taking over tasks executives don’t need to be doing can be another way to help manage stress. Many people struggle to let go of tasks even when they’re already too busy. Taking care of those tasks can free them up for other work.

Another way to help manage stress is to assist with prioritizing tasks. People often feel overwhelmed when it seems like there’s just too much to get done. Prioritizing can break it down into manageable chunks.

Promote healthy habits

We mentioned the key healthy habits earlier: eating, sleeping, exercise, and managing stress. Administrative professionals can take a proactive role in promoting those healthy habits as part of mental health awareness.

Sometimes people do need a gentle reminder that it’s time to take a break. Or, sometimes modeling healthy habits at work can rub off on others. APs have a role to play - it could be anything from organizing fitness challenges to taking a break for a healthy lunch. Even if you work remotely, it’s still possible!

Another area APs can help is with noticing when people have heavy workloads or are working long hours. They can help with enacting or influencing policies that respect people’s personal time (such as no emailing outside of work hours). Long hours shouldn’t be a regular occurrence, especially if the goal is to avoid burnout.

Lastly, making time for fun can be a huge help! Connecting over a game or a social hour can help to make people feel like they belong to a team and that it’s not always about work. Most teams need ways to decompress and APs can be good at organizing that.

Final thoughts

Workplace mental health is a big deal. Almost everyone will experience some sort of mental health issue, which can impact every aspect of their life. Mental health awareness and support is a key step for workplaces.

Administrative professionals tend to be in touch with all areas of the business and are well-placed to help support workplace mental health. They might take a role in anything from awareness initiatives to helping support healthy habits.

For executives, having someone in the AP role can help to take some pressure off and allow for more personal time. An AP helps people to find the right balance, avoid burnout, and spend time on the things they love.

Are you looking for your next administrative professional role? Click here to find out more about joining Worxbee’s team of excellent APs.