Developing a mentally healthy workplace means putting several key factors in place that support employees. And you don’t need to be a mental health expert or have access to truckloads of resources to support the well-being of your people. There are many low-cost resources you can make available to your staff including webinars, podcasts and mindfulness apps such as Calm and Smiling Mind.
In a recent study by SEEK, 51% of hirers reported never asking their staff if they were ok, even when they observed them struggling. Common reasons people listed for not checking in with staff and colleagues are:
- Not feeling comfortable to ask about how they are doing (40%)
- Thinking the other person might not want to talk about how they are feeling (30%)
- I didn’t think I would be able to help (16%)
- I didn’t want to give the wrong advice (16%)
Mental health is everyone’s business
According to SEEK, 53% of people agree their mental health has been impacted by COVID-19. As a manager, employer, or small business owner, it’s outside your expertise to provide solutions, and it’s not your job to diagnose or comment on the type of mental illness the person is experiencing. However, acknowledging and expressing concern based on changes you have observed can be the encouragement an employee needs to take the next step in seeking help.
This can make all the difference in a person’s perceived level of support, as well as their level of hope, both of which are imperative for taking the steps towards garnering support to improve mental health and foster wellbeing; which will likely serve both the individual and the organisation.
How to start a conversation about mental health
The best place to start a conversation about mental health is to share some observable changes you have noticed in another person’s behaviour, mood, appearance, or thoughts. You may say something like “I’ve noticed you’ve been less engaged in meetings/more reserved on zooms/missing deadlines lately…and I’m wondering if you’re doing OK.”
Noticing what employees are saying and doing and then describing how this has changed from the person’s more typical baseline behaviour in the past shows that you know a person, that you value them and their contribution, and that you care. In many ways, it may be useful to consider your approach to mental health issues as similar to the ways you might approach physical health concerns. Compassion, support, and respect are key, but so too is adopting a warm and direct approach.
It’s appropriate to acknowledge you are not a mental health professional. Remind yourself it’s not your role to diagnose, lecture, advise or fix; however, minimising, gossiping, or ignoring the person and their concerns won’t help either.
Actively listen and encourage sharing
One in four Australians believe having leaders who make a point to genuinely and regularly check in has a huge impact on their mental health in the workplace.
Before starting a conversation with an employee about their mental health, ensure you’re in the right headspace to engage, then aim to listen without judgement. Silence is OK too. Your role is to encourage and facilitate the next steps to support the person to help themselves.
Try asking open-ended questions that invite the person to consider the next steps such as – “what or who has been helpful when you have felt like this in the past?” or “Can I help you contact your GP, or a psychologist while you’re feeling stuck/overwhelmed?”.
Source: Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4800 Australians annually. Published October 2023.