On R U OK? Day we’re reminded that leaders play an important role in safeguarding and supporting the mental health of their teams. Asking after the mental health of a team member is the first step, and a very important one, in creating a more mentally healthy workplace.
However, what we’ve noticed over the years in our training and consulting work, and what we’ve read in studies from the major world economies, is that employees are reluctant to open up about mental health concerns to their leaders.
A study we completed recently confirmed what we’ve been hearing. We reached out to our community of managers and everyday employees and asked them two questions:
‘If a friend asked R U OK?, and the answer was ‘No’, would you tell them?’
‘If your BOSS asked R U OK?, and the answer was ‘No’, would you tell them?’
And, anticipating the response we might receive, we asked another question:
What advice would you give management to make it easier for their people to say ‘I’m not OK’?
We asked respondents to leave comments on the first two question if they wished, and we asked about their gender and age group so we could look for basic trends.
The results were pretty interesting.
Consistent with what we’ve seen and read, managers are a lot less trusted by employees when it comes to disclosing their mental health state. 29% of people said they’d hold back from telling a friend if they have a mental health concern. But that figure jumped to almost half when asked if they’d tell their manager.
Are you a psychologically safe manager? Take the test to find out.
- Be genuine and authentic, care and empathy – all the time, too late when it comes to R U OK
- Show interest in the whole person
- Be available
- Listen not problem solve
- Talk about the subject at work, normalise it
- Peer support group, EAP, resources
- Discuss options without going down workcover route
- More conversations
- Culture of being your whole self at work
- Open minded and honest
- Stress leave, reduced hours, duties, RDOs
- Better education for managers
- Let them know re good work too
- Mental Health and Stress Management Policy
- Safe that it’s not going to impact job
- Suggestion boxes for anonymous feedback
- Ensure privacy
- Clear open policies promoted
- Leadership skills for managers
- Modelling from managers on how to deal with hard times, be vulnerable, take leave etc
- Don’t doubt the answer when you get it
- Do something – not just lip service to employee mental health
- Ask more often not just once a year’
- Be OK with uncomfortable
- Treat worker as a human, not a number
- Get others with a good experience to share it
- Context – some want to be asked and to talk about it others won’t.
- Recognise needs of carers (of people with mental illness, elderly, children etc)
- Ask but also express that work need not be involved as long as performance ok
- Managers need skills – don’t just pass it off to HR or EAP
- Know how to follow up the question