Are you listening?
Employees often keep things bottled up for fear of being seen differently, discriminated against or simply feeling like their employer is too busy to listen, or worse, listen but not truly understand.
Active listening is a skill all managers should focus on improving. It’s more than just being there for an employee who wants to talk, it requires a genuine understanding and retention of what’s being said and providing a considered response.
When practising active listening it’s key to provide feedback, demonstrating you’re not simply a passenger in the conversation. Echo phrases back to employees to show you’ve taken them on board and, where possible, rephrase key messages to show you’ve grasped the meaning.
Don’t speak over individuals or second-guess what they’re saying, as this implies you’re not absorbing their disclosure but waiting to speak yourself. Speaking about your own experiences may seem comforting, but be aware it may also look like you’ve not considered issues from their perspective or are trying to ‘top’ what they are saying.
The role of language
The language used to discuss mental health is important. A culture of unhelpful words or phrases can inhibit conversations. This relates to both employer and employee. While employers need to take a sensitive approach to the language they’re using, they should also be attuned to the language used by their employees.
The Journal of Positive Psychology suggests conversations about mental health should focus on wider feelings rather than clinical diagnosis, replacing terms like depression or anxiety with dialogue around more general distress.
Listen out for signs of distress in employees’ language. It may not be specific words or phrases, but instead, language suggesting anxiety, rumination, a lack of motivation or dramatic mood changes among other symptoms. Often, though, it is as simple as noticing a change in the way someone behave and just asking “Are you Ok?” and then really listening to the answer.
The next steps
It’s often suggested 1 In 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, however at Nuffield Health, we believe the focus should be on supporting a ‘4 in 4’ culture.
The idea of 1 in 4 simply reinforces the sense of ‘otherness’ that prevents many people from speaking out for fear of appearing different. Everyone has emotional wellbeing needs, and just because an employee doesn’t appear to be suffering, they can also learn helpful coping strategies and benefit from support.
Support strategies should aim to normalise conversations around mental health and require buy-in from the whole organisation, including CEOs and leaders. Small actions like encouraging work-life balance and supporting mental health champions in the workplace demonstrate a commitment to improving mental health.
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If managers feel they need training to confidently support their employees and colleagues, consider providing funding for emotional literacy interventions. Skills learned in these sessions include self-awareness, empathy and relationship building.
At Nuffield Health, 94 percent of employees who took up emotional literacy training opportunities said they would feel confident supporting a colleague showing signs of emotional distress