How to have conversations about mental health & wellbeing.

10th May 2021

As I write this, here in the UK we’ve well into the process of easing lockdown measures, since the last lockdown. Personally, it’s felt much needed and it’s felt so special to be able to see more of family, albeit we still can’t have the bigger family get togethers that we’re used to.

As lockdown measures ease we’re thrown into another round of changes as we once more pull us out of our comfort zone to adapt and accommodate a changing situation. A couple of weeks ago I did an ‘in person’ workshop; which was the first for around 12 months. I’m not going to lie I was nervous. Even the drive; one I’ve done literally hundreds of times felt weird and like a whole new experience.

It strikes me that as we all begin to change (again) as a result of lockdown measures easing – it can once again feel uncomfortable, nerve wracking and maybe quite anxiety provoking for some! Under the circumstances, with what we’ve been through, that feels like a natural reaction. We’re in uncharted waters. We’re stepping out of our bubbles (literally) and mixing with others, which has literally been the thing that many people have been avoiding as much as possible, for the last 12 months.

I believe it’s vital that we talk about how we’re doing. That we open up about the impact that this pandemic has had on our mental health. It’s been a tough 12 months. It feels perfectly natural to be feeling worried and maybe a little scared at the prospect of things changing right now.

As a species we’re great at adapting to change. We’re massively adept and learning, pivoting and accommodating change…but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Change requires us to move outside of our comfort zone. We have to find new ways. We have to think and plot our way through something that is new and possibly quite scary.

I know lots of businesses are working out how to get people back into the workplace even if the plan is for more flexible working. If we’re looking to smooth this transition then we really do need to be ready to have conversations about how people are finding the planned changes.

These are conversations that matter. They’re the type of conversations that managers need to have, in order to ensure that people feel supported and heard in the middle of a transition that might be quite challenging. 

Here’s my thoughts on 4 key ways that we can encourage people to T.A.L.K. about how they’re doing;

Time – make the informal time and space for people to talk about how they’re doing. Giving people the time and space to talk about what’s important to them is the ultimate compliment. We’re inadvertently saying you matter. We’re indirectly saying I care and most importantly we’re letting people know that we really do want to know what’s going on for them.

Ask – be prepared to ask how people are doing REALLY. For many of us the automatic answer to the ‘how are you doing?’ question is ‘fine!’ This part is a reminder to slow down and gently enquire about how people are really. Perhaps we can gently probe a little further to get under the surface  – and to get people to open up, even a little, about how they’re doing. 

Listen – be sure to listen without interruption or judgment to get a real sense of what’s troubling. Listening often isn’t as easy as it sounds – we can easily get distracted by a whole range of both internal and external distractions. Extreme listening isn’t something we can do at the same time as anything else – no matter how great you think you are at multi-tasking, listening needs 100% of your attention!

Know – be sure to keep people updated with what you know and make sure they know what they can do if they’re struggling. This part is a reminder to keep people in the loop. It’s also a nod to the idea that we need to help people to help themselves, so they find their own ways forward. We need to know what people need from us right now – and we might also need to help people access further professional help if they’re in distress.

I think the next few months will feel tough for lots of people – and if you’re a manager, you’ve got a pivotal role in helping people to make as smooth a transition as possible, from how things have been to the brave new ‘post lockdown world’ that’s on its way!

If you’re interested to find out more about how we can help your managers to develop the skills and confidence that they need to have conversations about mental health and wellbeing, please get in touch.