A Manager’s Guide to …. Conversations About Workplace Behavioural Health

Laura Morrison Employment

Firstly, for those new to the topic, you may be asking “What is Workplace Behavioural Health?

Simply, it’s behaviours by employees that may affect their physical and mental wellbeing and therefore health and safety in the workplace.

It’s important to note the workplace itself can have an effect on somebody’s wellbeing, but also people can have a range of outside factors and triggers which may impact their performance at work.

Managers are very often not trained by organisations in the specific communications skills to have a constructive conversation*.

(*less than one-fifth according to recent research by the IoD – see https://www.iod.com/news-campaigns/news/articles/IoD-calls-for-a-little-more-conversation-around-mental-health-in-the-workplace)

We all know policies can be complex, out of date and may not take into account the variation between individuals.

In fact, only 14% of respondents to the IoD survey had a formal Mental Health policy.

Furthermore, mental health can lead to an individual trying to self-medicate and develop into issues with compulsive behaviours and addictive disease – which can be firmly outside of the comfort zone for most managers to discuss with confidence.

Our feedback from managers who’ve taken our Workplace Alcohol and Substance Misuse course indicated that 71% felt more confident tackling the topic with colleagues, with the inclusion of “lived experience” examples having particular impact in training;

“As an ex Police-Officer, I am well aware of the substances discussed and social triggers, however with the facilitators experience, I believe this has made my all-round job easier as my colleagues could absorb the real life examples.”

Most HR professionals agree a sensible approach needs to be taken. We are beginning to see real steps being taken to raise awareness of mental health, behavioural health and best practice. This is being supported nationally by campaigns to create conversations by policy makers and influential bodies such as the IoD, Heads Together and the Government.

A prosperous and productive economy, and indeed society, depends on a healthy and functioning workforce in all sectors.

As managers, our own lives can be busy, filled with targets, pressures and fast decisions.

So, what happens when we have a man or woman down on our team?

1.The fastest and earliest intervention can be to give somebody your time:

Teams where there is certainty that the manager will respond positively to concerns and make time to listen are more productive and also more likely to look out for each other, creating a more resilient environment.

2. Check your culture:

Don’t be afraid to ask how people feel. If this is a new step, people may take time to respond, but by reinforcing the conversation, this can and should become the norm.

3. Check your communication:

a) When you listen, are you fully present and available to the person you are with?

To listen fully for just a few minutes, without interrupting the colleague, and without making comments positively or negatively can have a profound effect. Firstly, the other person feels heard, and respected, which is critical at such a difficult juncture. This develops the trust to enable a solution to be worked through together. It’s key to empower the colleague by asking what support they need, then seeing if it is within your power to offer this through organisational resources.

We can work with organisations who need specialist guidance and support, and this can be done on short term case and referrals

b) Do you offer praise for a job well done, or only offer negative feedback?

Observe yourself – most people are more motivated by praise than financial rewards, and it’s recommended that 5.6 positive statements to each negative is the ideal to support high performing teams.

c) Do you respond and take action on what is communicated to you?

A good leader places employee wellbeing at the heart of performance. Responding and seeking support for an employee with challenges can help you retain and rehabilitate the employee, whereas pursuing an aggressive approach directed towards capability dismissal can not only be unethical and potentially illegal, it can create a huge cost to your organisation, in client relationships, recruitment and re-training.

4.Embed culture and resilience strategies:

Make good practice the norm. You could look to make it possible for colleagues to take short mental health breaks, increase autonomy and self-direction on their work projects, discuss emotions on intense projects, be aware of what colleagues need in order to support themselves.

It’s been recognised that financial wellbeing is a huge source of domestic stress, so many organisations are now looking to include financial wellbeing training for staff as an example of observing and responding to the organisation and the operating environment.

A great idea in “Virtual” and “AgileWorking” cultures are “Virtual Coffee Sessions” where team convene for 15 minutes a week just to check in, share good news and raise issues – no agenda, just time to talk. If you use technology in your business, and who doesn’t these days, you could use polls from time to time to get a sense of where people are at.

Take the time for surveying on health, supporting awareness promotions in the annual calendar and make sure your culture supports healthy eating, sufficient exercise and rest and, importantly, does not operate an “always on culture”.

Finally – Keep perspective.

Business can be challenging, but not so much that people need to suffer with mental ill health brought on by poor management, and cost-cutting pressures.

Ensure your business has the right resources, enough people to meet customer requirements and the resilience to course-correct when things go wrong.

Sign up for our free Online Training and The Workplace Behavioural Health Forum at www.workplacebehaviouralhealth.eventbrite.com