Working from home has revolutionized the way in which we work, with a survey earlier this year revealing that nearly two-thirds (71%) prefer it to being in the office, but it’s not always smooth sailing.
From not taking lunch to burning the midnight oil, many have struggled to cope with the lack of structure working from home creates, with employee mental well-being taking a big hit.
In fact, a recent survey from health insurance provider BHSF found that 40% of workplace absences were due to mental health issues and this is projected to rise to 70% by 2023.
Despite this high figure, communication around the subject appears to be far from perfect, with 30% admitting they would not feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their managers.
With research from Forbes suggesting that hybrid work is set to become the norm – 70% of companies are making the change to hybrid working official – it is essential companies prioritize their employees’ mental health when creating their new hybrid way of working.
The best way to create a framework that encourages these conversations in an open and transparent environment is by designing a one-team wellbeing approach, that includes everyone in the organization, no matter where they are based, with mental health as a key pillar.
It is clear that current approaches taken to facilitate these types of conversations are falling short and failing to develop and grow connections amongst teams. The question for leaders becomes, how can we build more fulfilling and inclusive experiences that bring everyone together?
1. Start small
Starting doesn’t need to be hard or overwhelming. It can be as simple as checking in on a colleague, pinging an email or instant message, or leaving a note on their desk. These small steps let others know that they are not alone and can initiate a conversation.
(Top tip – If in person, it can be much easier to open up when talking side by side rather than face to face. This could be on a walk to grab a coffee or lunch. Or even when sitting in traffic together.)
2. Listen and ask questions (gently)
A conversation can happen anywhere, at any time and it’s important that when you do have them that you really listen to what the other person is saying and don’t assume anything. To become a good active listener, try to put everything aside and give them your complete attention.
Questions around the subject (not too personal) can also really help to understand and learn about the topic too – try asking open-ended questions to allow conversations to flow.
3. Think about your language
Talking about mental health can make many of us emotional and without all the information, it can be hard to know what is triggering for people. When approaching these conversations honesty is key.
If someone is struggling to articulate themselves, ask if they would like a break to regroup and give them a chance to open up in their own time – forcing someone to discuss their conditions before they’re ready can cause many to just shut down. If a colleague does open up to you, try not to treat them any differently.
Supporting them is keeping things normal and always being there to listen when needed.
4. Avoid making comparisons
When having these more personal conversations, it can be easy to want to tell that person confiding in you about something that happened to you and how you navigated it. While it’s okay to share these similar experiences, it is important you don’t compare as it can undermine the other person’s feelings.
Listen to what they are saying and ask what you can do to support them. Sometimes people’s natural defense is just to respond ‘nothing I’m fine’ so at that stage, gently suggest some things you are happy to do to support them.
5. Team bonding activities
Providing and encouraging opportunities for your team and colleagues to connect, can be one of the most crucial parts of allowing conversations to naturally happen. This is because team-building activities help create shared context. This can help to foster psychological safety and is even more important now that companies have a mix of remote, hybrid, and office-based teams.
6. Recruit your champions
Most companies – even big corporations – rely on loyal volunteers to drive their wellbeing programs. Send out a call for passionate people with an interest in helping others and developing their skill set. Depending on your setup, try to designate a wellbeing champion in each department, then appoint one or two people to coordinate efforts for the entire organization.
If you can also offer mental health first aid training to a number of volunteers, it’s money and time well spent and helps normalize these types of conversations.
Conversations about mental health are very underrated and, as well as reducing the stigma associated with it, a simple conversation with a colleague can be all it takes to lower the barriers to open up and talk about how we are feeling.
At the end of the day, remembering that employees and employers are human means that mental health can be openly discussed.
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