Advance Performance | “It’s Good To Talk – Support Your Colleagues” by Martin Wright
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“It’s Good To Talk – Support Your Colleagues” by Martin Wright

“It’s Good To Talk – Support Your Colleagues” by Martin Wright

All of us need someone to listen to us occasionally. Whether it’s just to let off steam or it’s a genuine concern in our private or work life – as the saying goes ‘It’s good to talk’. As MIND reports on its website at least 1 in 6 workers experience common mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.

Earlier this week, a new study by the London School of Economics reported that a supportive manager helps employees with depression to miss fewer days on the job. The researchers examined survey data from 16,000 employees and managers in 15 countries, including the U.S and the UK.

The researchers discovered employees with depression missed on average 4.1 more days of work due to their illness in the countries where managers said they would avoid talking with an employee about depression.

The report’s co-author, Dr Sara Evans-Lacko, said: “Our research shows that where employers create a culture of avoidance around talking about depression, employees themselves end up avoiding work and even when they return to work they are not as productive as they could be.”

Mental health problems are estimated to have cost the UK economy almost £35bn in 2016. Previous research suggested more than 70% of mentally ill people actively conceal their conditions from their colleagues and managers because they feared discrimination in the workplace.

By being aware of the mental well being of your team members, you can actively support colleagues so that they will miss fewer days from work, can be more open, satisfied with their role, and be more productive overall – ensuring a happy team and more successful company.

We have some tips to enable you to be active in supporting a colleague or employee who may have mental health issues.

  • Look or be aware of ‘the signs’ of possible problems. These can be such things as a change in attitude and behaviour, time keeping, appearance, interaction with other colleagues.
  • As stated in Advance’s Leadership Course the most important thing is to listen. Don’t interrupt and try not to offer ‘a way out’. When the time offers itself always start with ‘How can I help….’ .  Avoid the question ‘What’s the matter…….’  They will tell you the problem in their own time. Don’t be surprised if all they do the first time is to cry – give them the safe space they need to be able to verbalise the problem. If they struggle to open up,  suggest that they write down the problem.
  • Time is a precious commodity so to help you and your staff, stick to a time frame. You could introduce a “drop in” time during the week for staff to talk to you about issues over a coffee during the lunch period or mid afternoon. Any informal or formal counselling sessions should be a set time length. Allow the member of staff enough time and always make sure it is uninterrupted time with no phones, texts or emails, but do maintain the specific time and let the person know when it is close to the finishing time of a session.
  • Ensure complete privacy if you feel notes are imperative, offer  a copy to the staff member and yours must be kept private.
  • Remember, you are human. For your own sanity don’t think you can, or try  ‘To fix the problem’. By listening and supporting the staff member, you are empowering them  to solve the problem for themselves. You are the catalyst who will assist them.

Working in an environment where managers felt comfortable to offer help and support to the employee rather than avoid them was independently associated with less absenteeism and more presenteeism.” – Dr Sara Evans-Lacko.

By being aware and by actively supporting the mental well being of staff and colleagues, you can build a more trusting and open culture at the workplace, and an overall more productive team and company.

Be aware, be supportive and listen.

For more information:
MIND provides a comprehensive toolkit, training and advice for anyone in the workplace who would like to actively support colleagues who may have mental health issues. The Workplace Wellbeing Index enables employers to celebrate the good work they’re doing to promote staff mental wellbeing, and get the support you need to be able to do this even better.