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How can we support the human experience in the workplace?

Mental Health Awareness Week
mental health
people & culture

It’s mental health awareness week and there is a lot of information flying around. If you are suffering with anxiety and you don’t know that’s the cause of your symptoms yet, or you do know but you aren’t sure where to turn, I hope you manage to find something amidst the plethora of advice and coverage that resonates and helps you take a step forward, even if it’s only a small step.

I’m not a qualified professional when it comes to mental health, but I like to think I have a good grasp on what it is to be human. I’ve seen throughout my career and experienced enough in my own life to know that no one is exempt from struggling. Life can throw you a curve ball at any time and the support system you have around you when it does is so important.

Anxiety is complex. For some, it’s something they have managed since childhood, and it ebbs and flows throughout their life. For some it comes alongside an obvious life event and for others, it comes seemingly out of the blue. It manifests in different ways and can be overwhelming and all consuming or it can be sneaky, subtle and gradual. Either way, it can have a huge impact on how people show up at work.

Conversations have definitely evolved since I started my career (18 years ago). There are lots of awareness sessions and mental health content available; we have mental health first aiders (I am one) and employee wellbeing is a topic we talk about widely and regularly. Despite this, it’s still an area that companies miss the mark on.

Business leaders, team leads, and line managers have such an important role to play. It’s so vital that we understand that we have the ability to alter the environment for someone. We can make them feel safe and supported or we can do the exact opposite.

Aside from awareness training and enabling people to access support channels such as EAP, here’s my take on how we can collectively support from the inside:

  • Start conversations early, during onboarding, to create a safe space for people to share about the support they need to thrive
  • Encourage people to set boundaries and then ensure we respect the boundaries they have communicated
  • If you have the privilege of making decisions that impact what, how and when someone else works, always try and think about what that means for the people you are choosing for. What may seem easy and obvious to you can have a detrimental impact on someone’s mental health
  • Get to know the people you manage. Ask them how they are and then listen to their response. The more you know about people and their personal set up, the more you can support them in a way that works for them
  • Practice holding complex conversations. It comes naturally to some, but others need to work on it. People and Culture teams should be there to support, but people don’t always automatically want to be sent to them and for it to be treated as something separate to their work  
  • Life happens to us all. As tenure increases, so does the possibility of big life events. Death, divorce, fertility, illness, a diagnosis, menopause – the list goes on. We need to flex our approach to individual needs to make sure we are supporting in the right way

I don’t have all the answers, but I know we can all do more. I’m glad we are all having the conversation, it’s so important.