Workplace mental health is a growing concern for many managers. Many of the traditional approaches to addressing mental health at work, are simply not working, and in some cases, are even making things worse!

In this video series, the 7 Pillars of a Mentally Healthy Workplace, we take an honest look at 7 principles, or 7 areas, that if addressed can minimise the impact of mental ill-health at work, and create a healthy and safe workplace culture that performs really well, even under high pressure situations.

Today, I will be talking about Pillar number 2 – Organisational Plasticity.

Pillar, or principle, number 2 – Organisational Plasticity helps managers like you address a Toxic Fume that often creeps into teams inadvertently, the toxic fume of the ‘Fear of Making a Mistake’.

You see, managers are expected to avoid risk at all costs these days. And that means they are looking for a definite process, that will deliver a definite result.

But when it comes to Mental Health, there is no definite solution for all employees. There is no one size fits all process to be followed.

Unfortunately, when someone becomes mentally unwell at work, most workplaces tend to apply just 2 default options – either send the person to an EAP service (that’s an employee assistance program), or send them away on leave. While these two options are a good start, they are just not enough. And the underlying message that staff can hear is go take your problem somewhere else. Now I know that’s not what is meant, but that is what some people will hear.

In our mental health workshops for managers, we educate participants about the concept of frames in mental health. A frame, is a specific way that a person makes sense of their world – their life view.

Square businessman fitting in formThat means that they come to you with an understanding, and an explanation, of what life is about, what is happening for them, and what needs to be done, that might be completely opposite to yours.

Our workplaces, and indeed our society right now favours the Medical and Psychological frames. That is why, when someone is unwell, most workplaces encourage the person to seek medical help, or counseling (usually through EAP). But not everyone views mental health through these lenses.

And this is important because your colleague is going to access the help they need through their preferred frame, not yours. And, if they are to recover, they will do so by taking steps through their preferred frame.

If we, as managers or as organisations, push our own frame onto the person, the likely result will be one of conflict, resistance and, in some cases, complaints of harassment and/or bullying.

So what can we do? Firstly, we need to find out the persons Frame – their preferred explanation of what is happening. Once you know their frame, you know what motivates them, now you are ready to elicit solutions from them and get better outcomes. We talk more about how to do this in our Workplace Mental Health Masterclass for Leaders course.

And what can we do as organisations? We need to be willing to be very flexible in our approach, and provide a range of possible solutions & supports for people to access.

Now, this can be difficult for managers, and when faced with a complicated mental health situation, many feel out of their depth. And that’s to be expected. After all, managers are trained in management, not in mental health or psychology. Why would we expect them to be experts in this area?

But because of that unknown, more often than you think, managers hope that the problem will go away and, when it doesn’t, they do what we all do in difficult situations: overreact and become rigid, even controlling. Why? Because we fear making a mistake that will hurt our reputation and we become defensive.

Instead of becoming very rigid in our approach, we need to do just the opposite, open up to alternative solutions, that are chosen by the individual. These are the ones that are most likely to work – getting the best outcomes for the person involved, the whole team, and the business.

How else can we demonstrate this second pillar – Organisational Plasticity?

Make sure that you engage your team in coming up with a variety of honest and truly flexible arrangements that encourage wellbeing in your teams. This can be a very useful & healthy exercise for all, especially if everyone can benefit, regardless of whether they have a mental illness or not. Or course, this doesn’t mean that anything goes. We understand that these Authentically Flexible arrangements will, out of necessity, vary from one organisation to another. But these are a great start.

The other thing you can do is to make sure you get to be known by your team as someone able and willing to adjust and adapt as necessary. Someone able to let go of old ways and embrace new ways. This will build the trust you need to build a great team that has fun and enjoys good mental health – while also performing at high levels! ☺

And there you have it, Pillar number 2 Organisational Plasticity – address the fear of making a mistake that creeps into teams when it comes to mental health and encourage authentic & flexible arrangements as a way to build trust.

I hope you enjoyed this video. I wonder if it would be ok with you that I ask that you share this video with other managers or HR and WHS professionals that you think might benefit. Thank you. Bye for now ☺

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter-Diaz-AuthorPeter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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