Asking workers about their mental health is a challenging question for leaders not versed in how to have personal conversations, but I believe it’s where organisations need to put their focus, particularly as we mark Mental Health Awareness Week.

Fortunately, the conversation around mental health and wellbeing is already growing louder through initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Week but mental health in the workplace requires a long-term commitment to shift people out of languishing and into really thriving. 

Lighter touches are important, but ‘Smoothie Week’ is not really going to shift how people feel about themselves and their contribution to an organisation. To really shift the dial, we need to have regular and open conversations about mental health and equip leaders with the skills to better support their teams. 

For many leaders their greatest attributes are often hard rather than soft skills and for some, asking how one of their team is coping is a difficult conversation to have. But if you frame the conversation around serving someone else’s needs and the benefits of connecting with them authentically then it becomes a much easier conversation to have. And hopefully having conversations framed this way will help people to perform better in their role and personal life.

Leaders also need to be comfortable with the knowledge that they may not know all the answers to issues or concerns their people raise once they start a conversation with them. They also need to be able to connect their people to specialists better able to help if they don’t have the answers to concerns or questions raised.

Just asking without judgement and knowing you’re not an expert at everything can be the best approach a leader can take. Simply listening and saying, “you know what, I don’t have answers for you, but I'm here to listen, and support you,” is sometimes all that people need.

Building empathy and understanding skills within organisations, can also help normalise conversations around mental health and break down social stigmas. Afterall, if someone breaks their leg, people are generally empathetic. Our level of empathy should be no different to a broken limb to someone struggling with stress, an eating disorder, addiction, or the death of a loved one.

There are also amazing resources out there like chnnl that leaders can access to support them in having check-in conversations with their people. I’m also an advocate of equipping and training mental health support staffers in the workplace, like health and safety representatives, to support leaders and employees with mental health and wellbeing conversations, tools, and resources. These are people those needing help to the capability team, health, and safety managers, EAP or external resources. They can make a significant difference to staff.

It’s also important leaders show their real side. For example, I’ve created short videos to share with my people when working at organisations I’ve used the medium to show an element of my day in lockdown or aspects of my personal life such as walking around the block or cooking with the kids. These types of interactions demonstrate we are all human and that as leaders, we understand the demands our people are juggling in their lives. It also demonstrates that we’re here to support our people rather than purely focusing on the hours they work and productivity.

Having a supportive team culture and a healthy work environment is critical for both employees and employers. As indicated in Randstad's 2021 Employer Branding Research, 96% of people believe having the same personal beliefs as their company’s values has a major influence on their job satisfaction levels. 

If we treat everyone with care and respect then employers can expect more loyal team members, highly engaged in an organisation because they feel safe. 

We also know that people who are thriving and feel supported give more discretionary effort which positively impacts the customer and profitability as a result.

about the author
anna campbell
anna campbell

anna campbell

culture and transformation business leader

Anna Campbell, a seasoned senior executive and director, was the first New Zealander to be awarded an Asia-Pacific Conscious Business Leadership award.