What To Do When An Employee Reaches Out: Handling Conversations Aboutmental Health
WHAT TO DO WHEN AN EMPLOYEE REACHES OUT: HANDLING CONVERSATIONS ABOUTMENTAL HEALTH
Having mental health related conversations can be difficult, because of people’s general discomfort in talking about problems that are personal to others as well as the stigma surrounds it. Discussingabout physical illnesses is easier than talking about mental health concerns. The conversation becomes more challenging at the workplace, as an employee a person would want to be seen as productive and an active contributor to the organization.It is often experienced that sharing about mental health concerns can lead to people viewing the person as deficient and/or difficult, or as someone who can be aggressive and unpredictable, given the stereotypes that continue to be associated with those with mental health related illnesses.
Ifan organizationproactively works to create a culture of openness where conversations about mental health are encouraged then employees feel comfortable intalking about their mental health concerns. It begins with initiating conversations and building the skills to respond effectively when concerns are raised by employees. Let’s consider a scenario where an employee comes to a supervisor or a colleague and shares that they are going through a mental health issue. The situation can feel like it is alarming if youdonotknow what to say.
The following are some things to keep in mind when such a situation emerges at the workplace.
THINGS TO DO WHEN AN EMPLOYEE SHARES MENTAL HEALTH RELATED CONCERNS
- Listen and be empathetic- Talking about mental health issues is not easy.It takes courage for the person to share their concerns,especiallyin a workplace. Therefore, it is important to listen to them carefully and not interrupt them or ask toomany questions. Allow the person to talk and share about what they are going through. Give your attention to them and just listen. Show empathy by being mindful of your expressions and verbal responses.Empathy is different from sympathy.Sympathy is feeling sorry for the person while empathy is the ability to understand what other people feel and to see things from their point of view. Showing empathy builds trust and helpsthe person feel that they are being understood.
- Find out what the employee needs- Ask the person regarding the kind of support they might require. It is important to know if they require help or assistance in completing tasks, extra time to complete unfinished tasks, temporary re-assignment, flexibility in their place of work or time off. Be willing to adapt your support to suit the individual and try to find solutions to thework-related difficulties they are facing.
- Ensure confidentiality- When someone discusses a concern pertaining totheir mental health it is important to reassure them of confidentiality as it is extremely sensitive information. Discuss with the employee what, if any, information they would like shared and with whom.
- Check in on them – Make sure to keep checking in with the personto ensure that they feel supported and you are attuned to how they are. It will make them feel that they are valued.
- Inform them about the resources available and encourage them to seek help- If your organization has a mental health policy and counsellingor support services available then make sure to inform the employee about the same.Even if they are aware of it, reminders of the same can be helpful in facilitating their seeking help. However, be mindful that you are not forceful in your communication.
- Don’t make assumptions about their symptoms – Do not attempt to engage in guesswork about what symptoms an employee might have, what the corresponding diagnosis could be and how these might affect their ability to do their job. If you have questions, you should wait for the right opportunity to pose them to the person. People with mental health related concerns can managework and be productive, while some can require additional support.
A CONCLUDING WORD
Having a conversation about mental health concerns can be difficult. However, the fact that an employee feels comfortable enough to share their mental health with a supervisor or manager itself says a lot about the organization and the leaders. Building this culture of openness and a supportive environment is likely to create greater psychological connectedness with the employees and is mutually beneficial to both.
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