It’s not easy to be vulnerable and share how we really feel. Often, we worry that we’ll be judged or misunderstood. “Sharing emotions and not taking them out on others, but admitting when you're having them, is actually one of the most professional and strongest things you can do,” said Kim Scott, a startup founder and author, whose work is driven by a core belief: bring your whole self to work. “When you pretend that something is not wrong, you just confuse people and create churn.”
Heads Up, an Australian organization that gives individuals and businesses the tools to create more mentally healthy workplaces, says that at any given time, one in five employees are likely to be experiencing a mental health condition. So, whether someone shows up at the office stressed because they’re dealing with a difficult situation at home, or someone has been struggling with anxiety and depression for many years, every mental health struggle deserves attention.
A Gallup Employee Engagement study found that employee engagement strongly correlates to business outcomes such as productivity, profitability, and customer engagement. The research showed that unengaged U.S. workers experienced nearly double the amount of stress (52 per cent) than engaged workers (32 per cent), and were nearly twice as likely to experience depression (16 per cent versus nine per cent).
Sarah Presutto, Vice President of Human Resources, Starbucks Canada, encourages leaders to speak to their employees to understand what their needs are. The corporation is running a pilot program for managers to receive workplace mental health training. In 2016, Starbucks Canada hosted forums with youth employees to understand what issues they face, what they dream of, and how the company can help them reach their goals.
“Open Forums are a moment of community and conversation with a Starbucks leader,” said Presutto. “The environment is safe, personal, curious, respectful and almost intimate. At last year’s forums, we heard about a broad spectrum of needs – not just anxiety and depression but discussions around work, school and life balance, care for elderly parents, ill children, bereavement, and life changes among others.”
Starbucks used this feedback to assess what financial aid was needed for employees and their families to access mental health support like therapy, while also providing training to help leaders identify when someone is struggling and how to help. A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers shows that for every $1 invested in creating a mentally healthy workplace, companies receive an average return of $2.30 for improved productivity because of reduced absenteeism.
Research from Wharton Work has shown that teams perform at their best when leaders project enthusiasm, positive energy and motivation, and that starts with a boss setting the emotional tone of the team says Dr. Jenn Bennett, a performance psychologist.
“As a leader, your emotions can have catastrophic or idyllic effects on the rest of your team. A resonant boss has the ability to maintain a positive tone by taking care of themselves and managing their own emotions first,” Bennett added.
Emotions need to be talked about as they happen so feelings don’t fester and create more harm than good. So, while forums can be planned and are an important check-in every once in a while, companies need to put daily measures in place that become deeply rooted in a company culture.
Scott suggests that when something is wrong with you, share it. “If somebody is going through a crisis, go out of your way to be supportive so that the next time somebody feels weak, they know you and the team are there to bolster them. If you're not at your best because you were up all night with a sick spouse, just say so rather than letting everyone wonder if they did something to upset you. Sharing a little bit of what makes you tick as a human being shows you're confident enough to be who you really are at work. That is a source of strength.”
Knowing what to say can be hard, but often one simple question can help someone open up and be honest. Scott suggests asking, "You seem upset. Is everything OK? Is there anything I can do to help?" She also encourages leaders to consider how they can make daily or weekly meetings more open to sharing how team members are feeling. She says sometimes starting meetings with a check-in can help. “Go around the table and encourage each person to share what's up with them that day, or start Monday meetings with a funny story of the weekend."
“It’s easy to tell if someone doesn’t seem like their normal self. Take note and do something about it,” encourages Scott. “If somebody seems upset don't pretend they aren’t, and don't chastise them for seeming upset. Eliminate the words ‘don't take it personally,’ from your vocabulary. Instead, react to emotions with compassion and inquiry.”
For more information about how to have a conversation about mental health visit here.
How do you encourage open conversations in your workplace or with team members? Share with us in the comments below.