As we continue to hold a strong focus on health and wellbeing in the workplace, we’re turning our attention to how we might look after and look out for each other in the workplace and include this as part of your total workforce management. It’s easy to either miss or ignore signs that a coworker is in distress or in need of help, but if you know how to spot some common signs and how you might look to help them, it may help you to become more aware of colleagues who’re struggling around you.
There’s a stark difference between experiencing a bad day and starting to struggle to cope or even struggle with mental health. This might be spotted by an increased inability to keep up with workloads or meet deadlines, the individual’s manner may change and the way in which they interact, including outbursts of emotion or mood swings. You may also notice physical differences in their appearance, or that they become tardy or withdrawn from social situations or in social business positions like meetings.
It’s not always easy to spot, and all too often a colleague may have been struggling for some time by the time someone realises, acknowledges or asks. With “2 in 3 people report having experienced a mental health problem in their lifetime”, take time to look around your workplace and take the necessary steps in your workforce management to help your employees and colleagues who might need it; often all it takes it starting a conversation.
As a member of management looking after your total workforce management, you should be operating with an open door policy; if someone needs to talk to you, this should never be a ‘hassle’. Operating this way all year round will mean that should there be an individual who needs to talk, they may feel more comfortable and confident in coming to you and knowing that they won’t be shooed away or hurried along.
When a colleague does come to you, listen to what they have to say, to their worries or concerns, show empathy and sympathy. It’s difficult to always know what to say, but it’s important your colleague knows that you’re listening and that they can return to talk to you at any time.
Sharing your own experience with mental health may help to lift any sigma they are afraid of, but it’s vital that you don’t steal focus or overshadow what your colleague is trying to tell you!
Is there anything that you can do to help in the workplace; are you part of the same team or working on the same project, enabling you to help them to meet their deadlines? This doesn’t need to mean more work for you, perhaps just helping to motivate or with time management. Otherwise, is there anything you might be able to do to lighten the workload, your colleague may not want to be seen as slacking, but may need less pressure, can you re-assign new projects perhaps?
Listen and Refer.
Unless you are also a trained counsellor or have professional mental health experience, then you’ll need to remember that you don’t have all the answers. You’re there to listen, to ask but not to fix, even if you have experienced your own mental health issues, we all feel and handle our emotions differently, so try not to project or assume. By using open questions and really listening patiently, you’ll allow your colleague to share much more honestly and accurately about their state of mind.
You may already have guidelines in place to help colleagues who are suffering with mental health or struggling in the workplace (and if you don’t, maybe this is a cue to put those wheels in motion). Encourage your colleagues to follow this process and if professional help is needed to reach out either internally or externally to the workplace.
It doesn’t stop there…
Once you’ve spoken to a colleague about how they feel, how they’re struggling and what you can do to help, that’s not it. You’ll need to check in with them, ensure that they are comfortable and confident to return to you when they feel they need to and reach out. Asking regularly should become part of your total workforce management – asking and listening. Mental health issues are ongoing and take time and work to improve, so be patient and try to accommodate for this where possible.
Sources for external help: