Written by: Joe Crocker, Account Manager
Illustration by: Ben Jewkes, Designer
Over the past few years, the conversation around mental health has become more and more prevalent in Western society. From what was once a case of “suck it up and act like a man” and “you’re too hysterical to be at work”, we are now progressively moving towards a culture that is beginning to understand the importance of talking about and supporting those suffering with poor mental health.
However, as with many things, mental health often falls into the “it takes one to know one” category. For those fortunate enough to not have had a significant mental health problem, there can be immense pressure to conform to the new conversations being put forward, both socially and within the workplace. With people now becoming more comfortable with talking about their mental health (albeit still a long way to go), some people might feel like “I must understand this” and “I must know what to say”, as that’s what the workplace culture is asking of them.
As someone who has long battled with anxiety, I know the feeling all too well of revealing only a small fraction of how I’m doing to someone, just to watch a flash of panic shoot through their eyes as they desperately try to formulate the deemed correct response. And in that moment, I feel vulnerable thinking that I’ve shared something that I shouldn’t have, and the receiver feels pressured to “perform” and to not shake the situation any further.
And although there is never a nirvana for this, I think there are key steps that we can all take in the workplace to ensure that we’re working within a nurturing culture for positive mental health, without compromising the integrity of the parties mentioned.
1. Never assume you know what someone else is going through
I feel like this gets thrown around a lot, but not everyone takes stock of it. We are so used to associating strong business leadership with being calm, assertive, and strong. However, that is often built on a pressure to never appear any other way.
Even if people can appear to be in total control, they can be battling something internally that can’t be seen. I’ve heard the phrase “if you’re at work, you should be here to work”, implying that if you’re ailed in any way, then you should be signed off, listening to rain music, and playing on the Headspace app. Let’s remove that toxicity, and instead focus on “if you’re at work, I’m going to make sure you feel supported and understood”.
2. You don’t have to fully understand
Giving people support, allowing them to go through what they need to go through, providing them the space and compassion they need – whether you have a deep understanding of the situation or not – these are all things you can do to help someone who is struggling with their mental health in work
3. If you’re a manager, check yourself
Line management can often feel like a big responsibility. For some it can even feel like an annoyance that comes with the role. Whatever the stance, your role as a line manager in terms of how you conduct yourself can seriously impact your direct reports.
As a line manager, it is your responsibility to empower your delegates with agency. If you are personally stressed, are annoyed at your direct reports for whatever reason, or show excessive negativity, that might be a catalyst for poor mental health. Line managers are there to support and nurture, not impose upon, and criticise.
4. Focus on positive feedback
We all know that giving feedback is a delicate art that needs be chopped and changed depending on the person. However, the crux is that all people want to know that the work they are doing is appreciated.
When giving feedback, even if there is negative feedback to give, make sure that you’re using supportive language that highlights the person’s achievements and hard work, whilst also allowing them to see how they can grow
5. Educate yourself
I am a firm believer that inclusivity is everyone’s responsibility and not just that of a few passionate individuals. If you feel like you don’t understand mental health issues, there are plenty of resources available. Even asking someone within your organisation if they would be comfortable discussing their personal experiences could be an enriching and liberating experience for you both.
Even as I write this, I can feel the eye-rolls and “darling, come look at this” coming through the screen, and that attitude from some is inevitable. However, I want to be clear that, at TMW Unlimited, we are striving for a culture that supports all, values every single person, and we want to be able to do our part to help anyone who needs it in the ongoing battle against the stigma of mental health issues.