people managers, we need to talk

Talking. It’s something we do day in, day out (usually about the weather for us Brits!), but why is it that when the topic turns to mental health, there’s often silence?

Despite organisations being more aware of the mental health of their staff than ever before, very few employees are comfortable talking about their struggles and how they are really feeling in the workplace. Yep, you guessed it, there’s some stats coming and they're pretty eye-opening…

New research has revealed that as little as 4% of UK employers said they would contact their HR department to discuss their feelings of loneliness. While another study found that almost half of employees are uncomfortable discussing any mental health issue whatsoever with their employer.

Concerning to think that more than half of your staff could be silently suffering hey? The main reasons for keeping shtum are often down to being afraid of other people’s responses. As well as fear of discrimination, putting their career in jeopardy and feelings of shame, as found by the Mental Health Foundation.

Breaking the silence

So, as people managers, how can you encourage your employees to open up?

Don’t worry, you don’t need to be an expert to talk about mental health. What you do need though, is to lead by example and be open yourself. By simply sharing your own story - whether that’s struggles you’ve personally experienced or purely how you look after your own wellbeing, you could make a bigger difference than you think.

We’re all human. We all have mental health challenges.

Even us at Key Wellbeing. Despite being an organisation that’s focussed on providing tools and resources to help workforces keep mentally well, we too have seen and personally experienced the effect of mental-ill health in our community.

So, to practice what we preach, we thought we’d open up a little about our own stories - in particular our wellbeing challenges and self-care solutions throughout the pandemic that we continue to practice today:

Marie Ranson, Commercial Director, Key Wellbeing

“Managing my own mental health over the pandemic required a reality check. At the start, I found myself being entirely focussed on work, as we were launching some exciting projects with Key Wellbeing. However, with opportunities for 'in-person' connections reduced over lockdown, gyms closing and feeling distant from friends and family, I started to notice that I was feeling out of balance, sluggish and at times even a little overwhelmed - kind of ironic when you are building a wellbeing business huh?!”

“I knew it was time to better structure my day, so I started making a 1 hour lunch break a priority. I started walking more, getting fresh air, followed online workout videos to get the blood pumping and I even added a 20 minute 'virtual commute' into my calendar at either end of the day - time that is just mine, a buffer between home and work to listen to music, meditate, walk, dance, anything that gives me a bit of mental space between home life and work life. Of course, all of this really helped and I know that it's what I needed to do to avoid 'burnout' and to feel more balanced."

Melissa Armstrong, Creative Director, Key Wellbeing

“Like many others, I found it challenging with all the uncertainty throughout the pandemic. Juggling work and home-schooling while my husband worked away was quite the balancing act. I felt really overwhelmed and unsure how I could manage at times and as a result had to really up my self-care routine to make me feel more in control.”

So I made sure that I got up an hour before the children to do my breathing exercises and fit in a yoga or Pilates session followed by a healthy breakfast. Thanks to my hyperactive dog, I also got out for a walk before I started work which gave me a little bit of a buffer and the well-needed fresh air! Just giving myself this time to calm my mind before work, helps me to focus better for the day and reduce the overwhelming feeling.”

From an internal perspective, we also added a few policies that continue to really make a difference to our own mental wellbeing. We recommend giving them a go in your own organisation:

· No meetings before 10am – This allows us to settle into the day properly post school-runs etc.

· One-hour lunch breaks are mandatory – Providing the chance to move, have a much-needed screen break, eat and get some fresh air.

· No meeting policy on Fridays – Meeting fatigue is REAL, we all need a break from them, so we try to make Friday meetings a no-go.

· Walking meetings – There’s something about being outdoors in nature that sparks creativity, even if it’s just a walk around the local park. Not only that, it gets us moving and we can sometimes get that longed for Vitamin D from the sunshine.

By sharing your challenges as a business leader or manager, it can make you appear more human, relatable and admiringly brave to your staff. Even better, there’s research that shows this style of authentic leadership can cultivate trust and improve your people’s performance and engagement – making the simple act of talking, a win-win for everyone.

Start the conversation with your people today.

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