With 4 February marking ‘Time to Talk Day’, we are spending this month raising the mental health and wellbeing at work agenda. Last week, we shared an article about the importance of leadership authenticity amidst fatigue and exhaustion. Following this, we’d like to share some of our expertise of incorporating wellbeing into culture programmes by exploring how to have wellbeing conversations…
Many organisations have a model for safety conversations. At Tribe, we work with our clients to encourage them to have conversations around safety which focus on asking relevant questions about the work or task, and importantly asking how someone could get hurt doing the task. This approach can be adapted for wellbeing conversations.
Here are some pointers for having productive mental health and wellbeing conversations at work.
1. Do you have the mental resilience to have the conversation?
Before you even think about preparing for a conversation, consider your own safety, mental health and wellbeing. If you don’t feel able, that’s ok, but don’t walk by. Find someone else to engage with the person. If you have wellbeing champions at your organisation, they would be ideally placed. If not, consider contacting HR.
2. Keep it private
As with a safety conversation, a wellbeing conversation is best held as a 1:1 dialogue – don’t raise it in the middle of a team meeting if you think the person may not open up to you.
3. When is the best time to have the conversation?
There’s nothing worse than leaving someone guessing so don’t approach the person at 9am suggesting a chat at the end of the day. Follow up the suggestion with a meeting shortly after.
4. Where should the conversation take place?
Find somewhere quiet to talk away from noisy environments and other people if the conversation is face to face. Agree a time to talk by phone or online.
5. Prepare for the conversation
What’s changed about your colleague? Their work performance, relationships, attitude and behaviour or general heath? Do you need to let your colleague talk things through, or is the conversation going to be focused more on helping them find ways to increase their wellbeing?
6. Consider how to open the conversation
A conversation is a two-way exchange so make sure you seek their permission to begin the conversation. You could open with: “How are you feeling at the moment?” If they are not ready to talk, that’s ok, but you could let them know you’re always available for a chat. Follow up in the next couple of days if they don’t contact you.
7. Be curious
Explore, show genuine empathy, and tell them what you’ve noticed (if it’s relevant). Give them time to answer and listen to what they’re both saying and not saying.
“I’ve noticed you’ve been a bit withdrawn lately. How are things?”
“You don’t seem as happy in work lately. Is everything ok?”
8. Help them to understand the impact on their wellbeing
Ask: “What impact is this having on your (insert as appropriate based on the conversation so far: work performance/relationships/attitude/behaviour/ general heath)?”
9. Offer solutions and signpost them to further help
Ask them if they’d like your help and open the conversation up to finding solutions. See if they have any ideas that will change things for the better, and focus on ones that will help now. It is useful to be aware of the help that is available within the organisation such as occupational health; employee assistance schemes and mental health first aiders.
10. And finally…
…the most useful advice for any leader is to come from a position of care, ask open questions and really listen to the answers. Be clear about why you are concerned and, very importantly, avoid judgment. In most cases the opportunity to have the conversation and feel valued and cared for is all that is needed.