During my attendance at a few business Expo's recently, I found myself drawn to sitting in on a number of seminars that were addressing the theme of employee well-being.
In many ways, it's encouraging that businesses are recognising the importance of the mental and physical health of their people; we all know that healthy, happy teams are successful, productive teams.
But, somewhat ironically, it appears that some business leaders and HR departments are now jumping rather too enthusiastically on the mental health 'band wagon' and engaging with the well-being agenda like some sort of badge to convince staff (and other key stakeholders) of how caring, understanding and supportive they are.
Thankfully, mental health in the workplace is now more often and more openly discussed than it has been in recent decades; the stigma of admitting to any mental-emotional difficulty is slowly reducing and in some organisations (but certainly not all) employees are enjoying an evolution in culture that allows for more personal problems to be aired in the professional context.
However, this more open conversation about mental health problems in a professional setting opens up a number of significant challenges.
First, the matter of Line Manager responsibilities. In most organisations, Line Managers are required to be the front line resource to solve performance issues - and when poor performance is linked to staff mental health, Line Managers are often ill-equipped to know how to deal with the personal problems being shared. Frequently, in such circumstances, the problems are referred to HR or senior managers (assuming both are available!)
Line Managers are often ill-equipped to know how to deal with the personal problems being shared.
Second, over-stretched and under-resourced HR Departments. If you are lucky enough to have a good HR department (i.e. one that does more than push paperwork around, put together employee contracts and job offers and does return to work interviews), then as a Line Manager, you just may have an option for that referral. But even then, are HR departments equipped to deal with the issue? Could this be a case of 'the blind leading the blind' when it comes to mental health problems.
And third, there is a huge difference between helping people understand WHAT to do in order to effectively address a mental health problem and knowing HOW to facilitate real behavioural changes such that the employee actually gets better. In all of the seminars I attended at various business Expo's, there is a huge amount of well-intentioned rhetoric about what would help employees - long lists of "small changes" that make a "big difference" to employee well-being. But again, absolutely nothing to suggest HOW to........
With the best will in the world, those in senior leadership roles rarely have the time or inclination to learn the complex skills to effectively engage with many of the mental health problems that we are now seeing (post-Covid & lockdown). Similarly, HR departments are stretched and many didn't sign up to deliver the sort of personal support that is often needed by colleagues. Hence the increase in spending on outsourced HR provision - even though many of these organisations lack the competence to make much of a dent on the problems being presented.
Even many outsourced HR 'solutions' do not have the competence to deal with the sorts of mental health problems showing up.
As I see it, the solutions, while complex, are not necessarily complicated. The complexity arises because there are numerous factors that bear upon the issue: relationships, communications, leadership vision, stakeholder expectations, clarity of role profiles, performance measurement criteria and a host of interpersonal & neurobiological factors such as diversity and inclusion - not to mention all those personal wounds that many are now carrying such as unresolved trauma.
The title of this blog alludes to doing things differently. What I mean is that we now need to turn our attention more acutely towards our SELF - how we are showing up as human beings, as connected and influential beings. The increasing fragmentation and fracturing of our human systems and the resultant dysfunction we are seeing in relationships invites us to become self-reflective. Why? Because how we each show up (how we each think, feel and behave) is projected onto others and creates our communities, our societies and our businesses.
Below are a few thought-provoking questions to get your brains on the matter:
how kind are you to yourself?
how kind are you to others?
what makes you scared?
what liberates you from fear?
how curious are you about people, how they work, what makes them tick?
what does resilience mean to you?
what does behavioural flexibility mean to you?
what makes you different from others?
what makes you the same as everyone?
Over the next few weeks, let these questions sink in and allow them (and your various answers) to float up into your awareness as you engage in conversations with your colleagues. And come back here for my next blog: So what happens now?