A common greeting in UK business is “Hello. How are you?” It normally elicits a response of “Fine thanks”. Both question and response are made on auto-pilot, a prelude to the real business at hand. It can be easy to miss signs that people are struggling, we’re all busy, and with so many people working remotely we’re missing the ‘water cooler’ moments and impromptu conversations that provide insight into our colleague’s lives inside and outside of work. It’s easier to hide behind a screen and turn your camera off putting it down to technical issues or wanting to create privacy or avoid colleague distraction from what’s going on in the background. So when you ask “How are you?”, always #Asktwice.
Time to Change have run campaigns encouraging us to #AskTwice and not take “Fine thanks” for an answer. If you’re concerned about someone always follow up with another question or reflect back changes in their behaviour you’ve observed such as “You don’t seem yourself at the moment, I’m here to listen if you want to talk”.
According to Mental Health First Aid England, 57% of UK employees say they have experienced mental health issues at work but less than half of that group felt confident to open up about it. I’d suggest that lack of confidence exists because when asked how they were it wasn’t the right time or place, because the person who asked wasn’t reallylistening or because they were scared their honesty would affect their job in some way.
If someone was honest enough to open up to you about their mental health and how they were really feeling would you know how to handle that conversation? I’ve seen many managers dodge the conversation or not pick up on the signals that someone wants to talk, mainly through their own lack of confidence in dealing with a matter they’re terrified of getting wrong.
So here are a few tips to help you have that conversation:
1. BE BRAVE AND ASK “How are you?” and really mean it. (make sure the environment is right to have the conversation, grab a cuppa and head somewhere quiet and free of distractions).
2. LISTEN – I don’t mean hear the words as you plan your opening line to ask for the latest project update. I mean really listen without interrupting. Try to put yourself in their shoes.
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is what it takes to sit down and listen.Winston Churchill
3. BE OPEN – with your body language and consider cultural differences (e.g. appropriate levels of eye contact). Look for clues in their body language about how they’re really feeling.
4. ASK QUESTIONS – How are you feeling at the moment? How long have you been feeling like this? Are there any factors at work that are contributing? What can we do to help?
5. OFFER SUPPORT – practical and emotional, not glib platitudes. Let them know about any company support services such as your Employee Assistance Programme or Occupational Health department if you have them. Remind them to visit their own GP if they haven’t already and suggest other avenues of support such as Mind, Rethink Mental Health, Living Life To The Full
6. KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING – check in at an appropriate point to see how they’re doing.
7. KEEP YOURSELF SAFE – it’s important to maintain strong boundaries and not take on the problems of others. You can’t help others unless you’re in a good place yourself.
For more information about our range of workplace mental health training call 01243 957667 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.