70% of businesses recognise this fact yet only 17% believe that it exists within their own organisation! Now I’m not the best with numbers but that just doesn’t add up! It’s easy to say it doesn’t exist here, but does it?
So what exactly is good mental health? What does mental well-being actually mean? I think we can all agree that it is a state of mind, what we feel and think, but more than that...
The World Health Organisation defines it as:
“A state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
Easier said than done you may be thinking! Who defines what the normal stresses are anyway? When does pressure actually turn to stress?
By no means do I profess to be an expert in the field of mental health. I have however experienced first hand the worst possible result of mental health issues as a friend and a manager. My experience has made me a strong advocate in raising awareness of such issues, in particular amongst the managers that I work with. I’ve been coaching again this week as well as conducting some work around mental well-being in the lead up to the 10th October Mental Health Awareness Day. Through my discussions and observations it got me thinking. We generally take care of our physical health, watching what we eat and hitting the gym in the lead up to our holidays, not forgetting the post Christmas diet that the majority of us embark on! But when do we actually think about taking care of our mental health?
So, why do YOU need to care in the workplace? I've already mentioned the figures, poor mental health management is costing employers £26billion per year. So why else do you need to care? Organisational reputation? Team performance? Yes these reasons are very important but we’re going to focus on one reason why YOU MUST care. YOU are responsible for doing the right thing for each and everyone of YOUR staff and / or peers as well as doing the right thing for YOUR organisation! If you choose to turn a blind eye you’re letting everyone down not least yourself.
Have a think, how often do YOU ask people how they are? Is it easier not to ask, you’ve got enough on and can really do without having to deal with someone off loading their issues? I see this so often amongst managers! It’s glaringly obvious that something’s wrong but they don’t have the confidence to get in there early and do something about it! It’s the elephant in the room! It’s not going to disappear though, It’s just going to get bigger and the longer that you leave it its likely to turn into conflict! So why don’t you ask the question? Are you afraid of what might happen if you do/don’t do something about it?
How many of you have seen or experienced the heavy-handed manager, they’ve got an answer for everything and choose to deal with the situation in a way that’s appropriate to them and not the individual? Or how about the shirking manager, the ones that see that there’s an issue but look for ways to pass it onto someone else and relinquish their responsibilities? There’s plenty of these managers around I’m afraid. The reason why? They really aren’t sure what to do about it or how to deal with the situation! Well in my experience neither one of these approaches work. If anything, they make things worse resulting in a further reduction of self-esteem and confidence for the individual at the heart of the matter. Well I’m a big believer in early intervention. This is far easier and much more fruitful than trying to establish a cure when things get out of control.
So, as a manager what should you be doing? I learnt from my first hand experience that sometimes cracks appear internally with no sign of any cracks on the exterior of a person. Why aren’t there any external signs sometimes? Is it due to stigma, labelling, personal pride? Who knows and I’ll never know in my instance, everybody is different and everybody deals with things in their own unique way. This is why It’s so important that you talk to your staff and be confident in asking that simple yet crucial question… HOW ARE YOU?
It’s vital that you observe the behaviour of your team regularly. Are there any signs of changes to the health of your team members and what impact is this having on their performance. What could you do to help them? I’m not talking about stripping away their responsibilities. This could be really counter-productive! If you think that workload is a contributing factor you MUST sit down with the individual and discuss this. They need to understand the reasoning behind your decision-making and any changes that impact on them. Be sure to set some time-scales for reviewing and make sure that they are encouraged to seek additional support. This could be from their GP, MIND or your own occupational health department if you have one. The last thing you want to do is to create a situation where the individual questions their competence and abilities in the workplace, this would be like pouring fuel on a fire and would add to their anxieties. Dealing with the situation means long term commitment from you and others, remember you need to ensure that you’re doing the right thing for the person and the right thing for your organisation.
So have a think again and be honest with yourself. Do you ask the ‘How are you’ question enough?
LEADERSHIP INSIGHT: How often do you ask that small but crucial question, How are you?