Let’s face it. The term “mental health” is not one you’d typically hear discussed within sales meetings.
Sales jobs have always been viewed as tough, demanding, highly metrics-driven and even ruthless. We’re all too familiar with the idea that leadership doesn’t care if you had an outstanding Q1 if you’re not meeting your numbers right now in Q2. In a field where performance is the be-all-end-all, there really hasn’t historically been much room for emotions.
It’s been incredible to watch how the pandemic has redefined how we talk about mental health and taken something that had been considered a “soft” topic and brought it much more to the center of our businesses.
Going through a global pandemic together has truly highlighted that human vulnerability in the workplace, even in a profession as fierce as our own, and brought mental health to the forefront.
A paradigm shift for mental health
We’ve come to this realization that the well-being of our team members is central to their performance and the overall team’s performance – and supporting that well-being is a major part of our responsibility.
Beyond that, today’s crop of Gen Z and Millennial workers are demanding this conversation and won’t stand for the “suck it up” attitude that once dominated the industry; they will just leave and move on to the next thing.
We know there’s a lot left to be desired in terms of how employees feel their companies are doing in this arena of mental health. One in three employees says their company does not take employee’s self-care and mental health seriously, according to a survey conducted earlier this year, with 40% of Millennials agreeing with that statement.
As sales leaders, we have more work to do to meet this cultural shift – with the little things mattering as much as the bigger things.
1. Check in often
It’s important to take an individual approach and touch base with every person to see how they are truly doing both at work and in their personal life. In our current remote environment, it can be difficult to truly gauge how an employee is feeling, especially as we are not communicating in person, and, as a result, have lost those crucial verbal and physical cues.
During check-ins, pay close attention to motivation as that’s a huge factor in our line of work. Our jobs are tough – both in the constant pressure and scrutiny that we’re under to drive sales, as well as the daily grind of our conversations with prospects. Recognizing that each person on your team is motivated by different things – and exploring that with each individual during those check-ins – allows you to drive them toward success in the best way possible.
It’s important to keep that line of communication open, consistently prioritizing checking in with your teams. Schedule regular touch bases with each of your team members, starting with virtual coffee breaks at the start of the pandemic and now gradually organizing socially distanced in-person meetups to get to know one another in an open and relaxed setting.
2. Invest in culture
You can create a negative environment rather quickly when it comes to sales, if you do not thoughtfully consider the culture you are nurturing and how employee mental health plays into that. A high-performing salesperson can be absolutely miserable if the environment goes unchecked.
As the leader, you have the responsibility of setting the tone for your sales team. I believe strongly that you can create a culture that is performance-driven, empathetic, and fun. All of those elements can coexist and it’s so important to state that this is something you believe in and then show up in that way every single day.
Creating a space that feels empathetic comes from the top and that only happens when you show each individual on your team that you care to know them, care to understand what motivates them and care about their growth and well-being, and that only happens when you have regular check-ins like mentioned above.
3. Simplify communication
Given the high-performance nature of sales, it’s crucial for leadership to help team members keep their eye on the prize – and that’s to drive more and more sales. It is so easy to drown in a mountain of internal meetings, emails, and IMs, and we just can’t afford to have teams distracted in that way.
The way you schedule meetings and the medium in which you choose to communicate is such an important factor in not only driving success for your business, but preserving your team member’s day-to-day well-being.
We are seeing more companies understand this need and come up with creative solutions. Citigroup, for instance, is implementing Zoom-free Fridays to give employees a break from the technology that is driving so much burnout.
FleishmanHillard has also internally promoted a “Take 5” rule, where leaders make an effort to end meetings five minutes earlier so that employees aren’t forced into back-to-back meetings and can take quick breaks in between meetings. It’s a basic concept that sends employees the message that you’re not expected to work non-stop and that taking breaks is essential, especially in this remote environment.
As a leader, you also have the power to decide how to best streamline communications to your team, whether that’s deciding which channels will be used for which purposes or just taking a more intentional approach in how frequently you share messages or the medium in which you share information.
Over 50% of employees prefer to watch or listen to a company communication instead of reading an email or blog post, with remote workers having a stronger preference for video messages than non-remote workers (65% vs 49%). Watching or listening to communication allows for easier consumption and gives your brain a break from the myriad emails you’re reading and sending all day.
Any announcement that will take your team away from their primary role of selling should be simplified. Consider an IT announcement – whether that’s upping security protocols on your corporate phone or upgrading software – and how much simpler it would be if your sales team could just watch a simple video containing all the information needed to make those changes in the shortest amount of time.
The same goes if your company is organizing some kind of corporate giving or team fundraising effort. This is something you obviously want your team to participate in and could be a great team-building opportunity, but making it as easy as possible to digest all the information makes a difference, and creating a video message is one great way to do so.
Meeting employee demand for wellness-driven leadership
While sales leaders might all be nodding their heads as they read the three focus areas above, it’s one thing to identify them and another thing to implement them.
The hardest part about leading with a wellness focus is recognizing that it’s a constant effort and that it’s easy to lapse. One reason might be that as a seasoned leader you may have been raised in sales teams with that “suck it up” mentality decades ago, and it’s hard to completely extract yourself from that past.
Another reason to potentially lapse might be due to the prolonged nature of this pandemic. It’s easy to have that momentum about promoting mental health and wellness within your sales teams in the beginning, but how do you sustain it when the time continues to pass and we continue to get used to working in this less than ideal way?
It’s important to remind yourself that this is one of your main responsibilities as a leader – to promote both the performance and well-being of your employees so they continue to work for the company and don’t go elsewhere.
With that sense of responsibility comes the same discipline that other areas of your job demands, which means operationalizing all of these focus areas so you’re regularly checking in with employees, evaluating culture on a consistent basis, and working to simplify communications as much as possible.
That might mean putting these items in your calendar on a monthly or quarterly basis, just as you would treat your team’s sales projections, to make sure you’re tracking accordingly. That might also mean elevating these internal goals and overall strategy with company leadership so they understand the full picture and its importance for the sales team’s success.
How to put wellness-driven leadership into practice
So where do you start if you want to implement wellness-driven leadership and support your employees’ mental health? Here are a few first steps to consider.
Take the time to connect with your sales team members often
Make it a habit – and consider putting reminders in your calendar – by setting up one on one touch bases on a monthly basis or whichever cadence makes sense depending on the situation. The most important part is just being consistent and having that ongoing dialogue.
Consider the culture you want to set with your team
As a leader, you have the unique power to set the tone for your team and can start being more intentional about it by writing down your values and your aspirations for the team culture. Keep referring to this paragraph or two, so you can keep this top-of-mind and tweak as you go along.
Reevaluate your internal communications approach
Start by asking yourself if the way you and your team communicate is simple or overwhelming. What platforms are you using to communicate with your team and is it effective? Making simple changes in how you approach communication will make a real difference in your team’s day-to-day well-being.
The pandemic has truly shifted the way we talk about employee wellness in our line of work. Let’s lean in and do this meaningful work and normalize the conversation. We’re all going to be better off because of it.