Published on September 09, 2020
On September 10th every year, organisations and communities around the world come together to raise awareness of how we can create a world where fewer lives are lost to suicide. Each year has a different theme and focus, to bring to light a specific aspect of suicide prevention.
In 2018, in the UK and Republic of Ireland, more than 6,800 people died by committing suicide. Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy as we know that suicide is preventable, it’s not inevitable.
As leaders, managers, colleagues and friends, we often recognise changes in behaviours of those we work closely with. We may see our colleagues become withdrawn and not as ‘chatty’, we may notice our boss become more stressed and anxious at seemingly small issues and we may have become aware of a higher number of absences with one of our direct reports… all these signals could indicate that someone may be experiencing some mental health issues that they may need to talk about. (source Samaritans)
“Hey, how are you today?”
Learning to recognise emotional issues is a key strength of an effective leader, however, learning how to handle the ‘difficult conversations’ or ‘perceived conflict’ is something that takes work.
Your employees are human and they have bad days of course, but if someone is acting out of character for more than a few days, have been avoiding others, isolating themselves, or just do not seem like themselves, you need to acknowledge that behaviour and ask them what is going on and if you can help. Leaders and managers have a duty of care to understand what’s going on, it’s the right thing to do to have the conversation, not avoid it and think ‘I don’t want to embarrass them or make them (me) feel uncomfortable’. Regardless of what the issue may be, when an employee has a mental or emotional problem, you need to talk to them and see what you can do to help them with whatever it is that is going on.
However, in the past 6 months, we have had the added issue that we have not been in direct contact with our team members as the whole world moved to remote working practices. Therefore, checking in with your team about their emotional wellbeing must be at the top of your agenda. Having the conversation (however awkward you may think it will be) is always better than not having the conversation, and by reaching out and offering some support you could be just the lifeline that person needed that day.
I reached out to some of the leaders that I work with and asked them for their top tips to tackle the wellbeing conversations….
One leader told me, “I found that having a zoom coffee or cup of tea helped to open up the conversation. All too often the ‘how are you feeling’ question comes at the end of a long operational call, so by putting a coffee in the diary, just like we would have done had we been in the office together worked really well for me and my direct reports”.
Another spoke to me about the importance of being open and honest… “Share honestly how you are feeling. As the leader of a large team, I admit to struggling to find the time to have one on one conversations with my team at the start of lockdown. Everything was discussed on team calls and I felt I was losing the connection with some of my team and as much as it impacted them – this also impacted on me personally. I started to share how I was feeling, how the kids were driving me insane and how I was struggling to stop working by 8 pm (to the annoyance of my wife). Once I had opened up about my issues, they started to as well, which meant we could have some pretty open and honest one on one chats that really helped overcome some hurdles. Now I have a one to one in the diary with each of my team every 2 weeks which has proved hugely beneficial to their mental wellbeing and productivity.
I also spoke with Caroline Michael, a hypnotherapist trained to deal with anxiety and stress to get the perspective from the employee's point of view…
“As a therapist, I work with clients suffering from anxiety and depression and often they express concerns about how this will be affecting their work, what colleagues and their boss will think of them and it can be exacerbated if they feel they are unable to approach management with how they’re feeling. The decision of whether or not to confide in a manager, not knowing what reaction they will receive can be hard to make if they feel unsure that opening up will in some way affect how they are considered and their career progression for example. If a client has a positive and supportive response from their manager/ leadership team it can be hugely beneficial for them and their progress in overcoming the issue they are facing. Creating an environment in the workplace whereby your staff feel comfortable and able to come to you with any issues they may be facing is of huge benefit both for the wellbeing of the staff and also for the overall productivity of the company”
As a leader, the most important thing to remember when approaching a team member about any concerns you may have is to actively listen with empathy and without judgment. It is in our nature often to try to offer advice but it is more helpful to use phrases such as ‘I can see that must have been hard for you to cope with, tell me how I/we can support you through this’ rather than ‘If I were you I would’ or ’Try to look the bright side, it could be worse’: both these comments have a positive intent behind them but can be received as patronising in the instance of the former or denying the reality of the person who is suffering in the latter.
If you have specific concerns about a staff member, maybe suggest getting out of the office for a 121 in a neutral setting, people often find it easier to open up away from the workspace. If people are feeling isolated working from home, suggest a coffee in their local café to encourage them to get away from the laptop. Utilise an indirect approach in terms of body language and eye-line; do not sit directly opposite them or be too direct with how you voice your concerns and be aware that they may not feel comfortable to open up to you completely in the first instance, trust may need to be built, so start by showing them you are there to listen and that the support is there if/when they need it. Another great way of communicating is whilst walking. Whilst we may not be working alongside our colleagues right now, pop in your headphones and arrange a ‘walk and talk’. The combination of getting outside in the fresh air and talking can be a great tool to get people to open up and talk about how they are feeling.
Offering regular staff wellness packages is a great way to open up the conversations around mental health and improve staff wellbeing in general, things such as pre-work or lunchtime meditation sessions are excellent for improving focus, clarity, productivity and staff wellbeing.
Tips to start a wellbeing conversation
- How are you feeling today?…. but how are you really feeling
- I noticed on that last team call you seemed a little frustrated, anything you want to talk about or that I can help with?
- You haven't had your camera on in the last few zoom meetings – everything ok?
- How are you feeling about returning to the office, any concerns I need to be aware of to make you feel safe at work?
If you are affected by any of the topics mentioned in this thread are looking for support or need some advice to help someone else you know you can also find help by doing the following:
- Speak to someone you trust ones or people who are close to you as soon as possible
- Call your GP and talk to them about the support and options available to you
- Call the Samaritans 116 123 (UK) / 116 123 (ROI) or visit https://www.samaritans.org/
- Visit the Mind charity website https://www.mind.org.uk/
Laws of Attraction are proud to work with https://www.carolinemichaeltherapy.co.uk/ and https://www.bmrhealthandwellbeing.co.uk/ in helping to build mental resilience in the workplace, for a safer and supportive workplace for all.