mental health

Mental Health Series Part 3: Protecting the Mental Health of Your Staff

The Mental Health Series was created to help you, your coaches and your gym community! In part three, we're focusing on the mental health of your staff.

Emily Beers
June 22, 2023
Mental Health Series Part 3: Protecting the Mental Health of Your Staff
The Mental Health Series was created to help you, your coaches and your gym community! In part three, we're focusing on the mental health of your staff.

As a gym owner, you have the unique opportunity to improve the lives of hundreds, even thousands of people. From your coaches to your community, you can make a difference in their overall wellness. And an important component of that is mental health.

Some gym owners may conclude that if a staff member is struggling with any aspect of being mentally healthy, that employee should seek professional help. And that is true with something like PTSD or addiction, areas that are out of your jurisdiction.

However, the truth is that your help can also be valuable when it comes to your staff’s overall wellness journey.

Prioritize the mental health of your staff
Prioritizing the mental health of your staff is important for them, you and your members.

According to Dr. Christina Migliara, a popular misconception is that mental health isn’t just about seeing a therapist for anxiety or depression. Instead, being mentally healthy daily is more like a fitness journey. It needs to be constantly nurtured and prioritized.

Migliara is a licensed mental health professional with TheraFit. She has 20 years of experience in mental health, specializing in relationships, trauma and addictions. She’s also a CrossFit Level 2 coach and owner of CrossFit Tailwinds in Jacksonville, FL. Her gym includes an entire wellness center for everything from nutrition to mental health therapy.

The Trickle-Down Effect.

If you think the mental health of one staff member doesn’t affect others, here’s some food for thought. If a coach isn’t happy or gets burnt out, how will that affect your working relationship? What about their connection with members in classes?

Coaches who are happy and mentally healthy are likely to enjoy their role, stick around long-term and lead great classes for your members.

Four Tips to Protect Your Team’s Mental Health.

So what can you do to help your staff stay mentally healthy, within the reasonable boundaries of being the gym owner? Migliara offered the following four tips.

1. Normalize the Conversation.

Instead of waiting for a situation to arise when a member of your staff needs help, be proactive by normalizing the conversation.

Migliara encourages gym owners to have regular check-ins with staff members. She says to specifically ask about their mental and physical health. Instead of asking generic questions like how everything is going, don’t be afraid to flat out ask, “How’s your mental health?”

Migliara says, “Use language that gets specific into the idea of mental health. Ask the poignant questions.”

Obviously, personal conversations should take place individually, but it’s also okay to lay the groundwork in team meetings. At first, your staff may not be used to it, or they’ll be unsure of how to respond. And that’s okay. On the other hand, it might be just what they need to get the dialogue going.

2. Encourage Mental Health Hygiene.

Last week, in Part 2 of this series, we talked about developing a healthy mental hygiene routine for gym owners.

The same should apply to your staff as well, educating them about the importance and helping them develop habits to be their best self.

For some gyms, this includes specific time set aside in weekly meetings to chat about creating or implementing the routine. Introduce them to the seven mental health pillars, which Migliara refers to as The MentalFit Framework. They include quiet time, exercise, nutrition, sleep/recovery, time in nature, socialization and hobbies.

Just like fitness, everyone’s mental health hygiene routine will be different. But it’s important to consider all of the pillars and develop habits around each of them. Then each pillar works together to create an overall balance.

Oftentimes for coaches, this can mean recognizing that they have a life in the gym, but the gym is not life. In other words, you’re helping to encourage a more balanced lifestyle for your team.

Encourage work life balance for your team
Encourage work life balance for your team, including time outside of the gym and fun staff outings.

Doing this will also help your staff create what Migliara calls “healthy boundaries,” to ensure they don’t burn out from coaching.

One great way to make this actionable is to host social functions for your team, such as a dinner or BBQ. Or make it fitness-oriented, like a team hike or a new sport. Staff PickleBall tournament, anyone?

3. Set Clear Boundaries and Expectations.

Though your team may face mental health issues that are out of your control, you can always be an effective leader. Start by setting clear boundaries and expectations around each staff member’s role, Migliara suggested.

“Clear is kind,” she said. “Create an environment that is clear, with clear and transparent communication.”

At the very least, this lays the foundation for a healthy and open work environment, where being mentally healthy is a priority.

Next, administer regular performance reviews with all team members. Be sure to ask about what’s working and what’s not. This can go a long way in being proactive with potential issues. Especially when it comes to mental health topics like workplace happiness (or lack thereof).

“Evaluations and feedback are important,” said Migliara. “It shows you’re invested in their mental health.”

4. Encourage Continued Education.

Continued education comes in many forms. It can be informal, such as providing general information or discussion during a staff meeting. Or it can be more formal training. In either case, Migliara recommends encouraging your staff to continually educate themselves about mental health.

For those interested in more education, or even in becoming a MentalFit and Mindset Coach, Migliara has options. She teamed up with Healthy Steps Nutrition (HSN) founder Nicole Aucoin to develop the MentalFit and Mindset Course. The course is designed specifically for gym owners and coaches.

Finally, it’s also important to plan ahead and have resources available for your coaches. That way, in the event that a coach is feeling mentally unwell, with an issue outside of your expertise, you have a direction to point them in. Having a trusted professional can go a long way in helping someone take the first step to getting help.

Be proactive about creating resources to help your team
Be proactive about creating resources to help your team when they need it.

In Summary: Be Proactive Within Your Boundaries.

Being a gym owner, versus a mental health professional, doesn’t mean you’re not able to help when a team member is struggling. You can still play a critical role in fostering an environment that allows mental health to flourish. And you can play an active role in helping your staff be mentally healthy.

It starts with normalizing the conversation about mental health. Then, help your staff create and implement an effective mental health hygiene routine. Provide a safe, clear and open work environment. And finally, promoting and encourage continued mental health education for your team.

ICYMI: Check out Part 1 of the Mental Health Series (Myths and Truths for Your Gym Community) HERE!
Disclaimer: “I am a Licensed Mental Health Professional. However, this is not therapeutic advice. The content of this message is intended for educational purposes only and not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding your mental or physical well-being. Further, some content in this message may be sensitive and cause triggering. Never disregard professional mental advice or delay in seeking help because of something you have heard or read in this message.”
Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009.

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