Feeling Fine - A Managers role in Mental Health Support

The stress was just too much to handle, she left work and cried every night. Not one colleague noticed she was struggling. Not one colleague asked.

That scenario is all too common. A 2016 survey by Canada Life, found that half of employees are likely to experience mental health problems at some point. That is a significant number of people around us each day, possibly struggling in some way. As a manager, how much attention have you given lately to the wellbeing of your colleagues? We get busy, there is so much to do, a never- ending list of tasks to trawl through, projects to land…. An organisation we singlehandedly need to save!

For the most part I’m sure we all try our best to regularly catch up with those in our team, review performance (we’re all having those regular performance discussions, right?!), chat casually about how things are. You know the drill, someone says ‘there’s so much to do’, someone answers ‘I know, it’s crazy here right now’… and we all carry on regardless desperately trying to keep control.

How much attention are we really paying to how the people around us are feeling? Survey results suggest that 48% of people with mental health problems said they would not be comfortable talking to their employer and Only 55% of employees believe their manager is concerned about their wellbeing. We’ll all have individual views on what mental health really means , we’ll all manage our mental health differently (check out the work of Jacqui and Aaron Schiff on frame of reference.) Personal views are all well and good, but as managers we have a responsibility, a legal duty of care, to observe and listen to people. Really listen.

Marina Abromovic, the famous performance artist once sat in silence in MoMA staring into strangers eyes. She remained silent for 736 hours whilst completing her work. She has explained how in the beginning she could hear all the normal hustle and bustle of people moving and talking in a busy museum, after some time she could hear cars outside and eventually she could hear the movement of a particular man hole cover in the road moving slightly as cars drove over it.  

It’s a tall order to expect ourselves, amongst the clamour of the working day, to hear with quite that precision …but I have no doubt, if we tried, we could improve. Robertson Cooper’s research on what makes a good day at work for people found that the things making a real difference to the amount of good days are when they - Receive support at work (91%),  Feel appreciated (86%), Talk about wellbeing (61%).

You may be all over this. But if not, let’s commit to make some time to look and notice how people seem, ask them how they are, and listen. Does the ‘I’m fine’ response to your daily enquiry really sound like fine? A moment given to someone could make the world of difference. And we all want to make a difference to the world and our people somehow don’t we?   

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