Mental Health Awareness Week: Three practical tips to support employees to have a different conversation around mental health

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Written by Sara Hope on 15 May 2019 in Features

Sara Hope continues our Mental Health Awarness Week coverage.

Reading time: 3 minutes.

We all have physical health and we all have mental health, but so often we find it easier to talk about our physical health compared with our mental health.

Recent research from Accenture highlights how more employees are willing to speak about their own mental health at work, but only one in five (20%) report an improvement in workplace training to help manage their own mental health or to help them support colleagues dealing with mental health challenges (19%).

How do you start to shift the way people talk about mental health in the workplace?

Here are three practical ways to help drive a more empathic culture, where people can begin to feel more able to lean in to these important conversations:

Become more aware of your approach to conversations

The simple question ‘how are you’ is used a lot every day, yet we don’t necessarily listen to the response, or we get into the habit of saying ‘I’m fine thanks’ when we may not be feeling ok.

These three words can have a significant meaning in a conversation, so ask them with a genuine curiosity to find out how somebody really is. If you are sensing something’s going on, you could reflect that back by saying ‘I’ve noticed…’.

Don’t try and go into the conversation with a ‘I’ve got to fix this’ approach. Go into it with an enquiring mind, and empathy. Listen non-judgementally and offer reassurance. Often you will find that is one of the most powerful things you can do in these situations. 

Nobody is necessarily expecting you to fix it for them. Sometimes doing small things can make a big difference, and just being heard may be enough. Check out this short video.

Be ready to support

This could be both emotional and practical. Ask the question ‘how can we best support you?’ so as to encourage and enable the person to come up with their own solutions. Remember, this is not about fixing, but facilitating someone to think through what will work best for them. 

For some people, work may be the thing that’s often keeping them going during tough times.

From a practical perspective you might be able to take off some of the work pressure for example, by enabling them to work slightly different hours. Get the person involved because what’s right for them may not be exactly what you’re thinking. It needs to be a two-way conversation.

For some people, work may be the thing that’s often keeping them going during tough times. If you pile in with ‘what I’m going to do is give you some time off’’, that might not be the right thing for them at all.  Keep yourself in that space of curiosity. Ask open questions.

Grow your knowledge around sources of support

Many organisations now have an employee assistance programme and train people in mental health first aid, a programme to increase people’s ability to recognise the signs of someone who may be struggling with a mental health challenge and connect them to support resources. Find out where you can sign post people depending on what is going on for them. 

For example, your internal HR function, mental health first aiders, their GP, on-line resources (Mind, Re-Think, Heads Together), and invite them to consider who might be within their own support network both within and outside the organisation.

When your people are experiencing challenges, you want them to be able to open up and ask for help. These three strategies can help change the way we have conversations about mental health.


About the author

Sara Hope is co-founder of The Conversation Space.



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