With rates of mental health problems having increased significantly since the arrival of the coronavirus, have you considered the number of people in your organisation right now who need more from you? It’s no longer good enough to approach relationships in a traditional or transactional way. We need to consider the whole person, and that’s more than just what is presented. How much do you really know about family matters, housing concerns, financial worries? If you think that’s not your business, think again… when people can be open and honest about what is really going on for them, you’ll better understand their dips and be able to support them through to the other side. If we choose ignorance, it can be a slippery slope for both the individual and your business.
What do you see?
A forward-thinking company I worked with, who paid for an employee’s emotional coaching to help him get over a mental health block, ticked the box for caring. But what became apparent after a number of sessions is that the individual’s manager was inadvertently contributing to the problem. What the senior member of staff saw was a competent, successful employee, with a proven track record, who was conscientious and eager to please. What was not as easily observable was what lay beneath the surface; the high level of anxiety, the fear about not being able to fulfil his potential and the expectations of him and the feelings of overwhelm that arrived frequently.
My client took responsibility for telling his boss what he needed in order to reduce his emotional arousal. This took courage. The manager was again understanding. Yet despite best intentions, accommodating the tweaks to working practices were short lived because the employee continued to look confident and competent.
Don’t be fooled
Mental health challenges and needs are not always easy to spot. The symptoms are often masked, despite the fact they may dominate every moment of that person’s existence. And when we see a smiling, busy looking face it is easy to forget and overlook the recently discussed adjustments, even when we have the best intentions. Now add to this realisation that below the surface there is a whole lot going on for each of us that we do not necessarily share with people at work and we begin to realise the scale of the problem. Whether it’s mental health problems per se or behaviours and circumstances that people may be inclined to hide, the more we know about the reality, the more we can support. And knowing that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion a year (Deloitte, Jan 2020), this is an important aspect of management to get right.
Training for managers about:
- how mental health difficulties can impact on motivation and performance, and
- what managers can do to reduce the negative impact
is all that it took for my client to be able to feel ok at work. A quick and simple solution to what would otherwise be a costly problem. Tailored to meet the needs of the individual client, we covered the most essential aspects:
- What emotional arousal does to the brain and how this might be experienced in the workplace for both the employee and those around them
- Gender differences in how we deal with our own emotional distress and support others
- How to keep the mental health needs at the forefront of work activities to avoid the overwhelm
- Normalising dips in performance that accompany fluctuating feelings to be expected with recovery from mental health problems
- Avoiding overload by limiting expectations and creating a safe space for two-way communication that keeps dialogue about difficulties open
- Re-setting expectations and recognising achievements, initiative and progress
- Demonstrating that the client has really been heard and understood; using emotional intelligence
- Modelling good practice through sharing personal stories, showing vulnerability (it’s ok to say ‘I don’t know but I’ll find out,’) and genuine care through following up on offers to help. It’s amazing how quickly we slip into accepting the ‘I’m fine!’ when asked, or feeling like you’ve reached out without really showing we mean it (by making the date for a coffee).
A whole-team approach
A question I ask companies, is why the responsibility for getting mental health right in the organisation is the responsibility of managers? Mental health is everyone’s business and so equipping staff with the knowledge and skills for recognising, understanding and dealing with the ups and downs of our emotional state sets the workforce up for success. And if the term ‘mental health’ does not feel comfortable, talk about motivation or engagement instead – what ever you need to get the conversation started.
We need teams, not just individuals, who are able to have open, regular and honest conversations without judgement or reprisal. We need every person to feel confident that they are understood, supported and cared for as a whole person and not just regarding work activities. This is not about an individual with mental health needs today and this is not about ticking a box for a mental health initiative. This is about everyday, long term practice that puts your people at the heart of your business. Try it and observe the difference.