9 key learnings from 15 years of delivering mental health training workplace – All parts

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Welcome to this blog about exploring some of the things Rosie Bartlett, founder and Principal Consultant has observed while delivering mental health training. The programs delivered have ranged from courses such as Mental Health First Aid which focuses on identification and early intervention of mental illness, to proactive mental fitness and stress management and self-care initiatives in the workplace. We would love to hear your thoughts and feedback hello@mindseyetraining.com.au  

1. Some organisations get it and others don’t

Like some really don’t…. Even the really big ones that should. A perfect example is when I delivered training in two large organisations in direct competition – Let’s call them organisation A and Organisation Z. Both courses were filled with high-level execs. 

Organisation A got it. Like really got it. They were committed in every facet of the business from the top to the bottom. It transferred to their people to the point where I was having a conversation with the cashier at one of these stores one day and after I told her what I do and that I had trained her store manager (she asked… I wasn’t just talking about myself). She eagerly told me about her experience with anxiety last year and how well the store manager and the organisation had handled it.

Flip over to organisation Z. They didn’t get it. While training the executives in the room I was met with blank stares and questions such as ‘I hear what you’re saying about mental health, but what about scan rates and productivity? That is where we really need to see improvement’. They couldn’t see the forest through the trees.

If you can’t see what the problem is here, feel free to give me a call and we can talk it through….or at least refer to point 2 below and then 3 and 4 in the next post… Then if you still don’t get it, we really need to talk.

2. All organisations need to invest in their people

Repeat after me…. Your people are your greatest asset. Good…. Now say it again (and again and again). Let it become your mantra.

People are complex things. Unlike machines, we like to feel valued, have a sense of control and know-how what and where our role fits into the bigger picture. We also like to feel that when times get tough our manager/colleagues/People and Culture will have our back and support us.

When people feel supported and cared about at work, they invest in the organisation. Committing, Communicating, Complying, Confidence with skills, Co-Leading, Connecting and creating a Culture by Doing are all important parts of the process.

With mental health conditions costing Australian workplaces $10.9 Billion per year and with almost one in two of us (45.5%) experiencing a mental illness at some point in our lives can you really afford not to?

On the flip side, a PwC study found that for every dollar invested into creating a mentally healthy workplace, a minimum positive return on investment of $2.30 can be expected. In some industries, this is even higher. You will see on average $14.50 for construction, electricity, gas and water and waste service industries.

So ask yourself again…. Can you really afford not to?

3. It is up to the workplace to create a culture of wellbeing conversations

I had a participant in my course the other day look at me and say ‘As a manager If I were to try and casually approach one of my team, they would know something was up and would think it was weird. How do you overcome that?’

I smiled and gave him a wink and replied ‘that one is on you, my friend’. 

Confused Participant: How is it on me?

Me: If the only time you are checking in with your team is when they are not performing or you have concerns, how do you expect them to react?

Confused participant: Yeah well when people are getting the job done, I leave them to it – why interrupt their work?

Exactly…. He was right – why would we do that? We leave alone the ones who come in, get their work done and go home – they are the quiet achievers.

Except he wasn’t right … The biggest area of influence leaders, managers and supervisors can have is to keep their people well or intervene early. Once someone is unwell the responsibility ultimately is handed over to the professionals, while managers and supervisors can only assist in facilitating that process.

4. Leaders need to be willing to walk the walk

I set a challenge to some of my course participants the other day to use the Employee Assistance Program. In my opinion, if leaders are going to be recommending this service, or expecting their team to utilise it, they should at least use it themselves, right? I didn’t think that was an extraordinary request… in fact, it makes perfect sense. Particularly the way EAP programs are evolving toward providing a wellbeing service that helps us proactively manage our mental health challenges and to build our mental fitness.

Well….  It was met with mixed reactions. I got a few nods (clearly a lightbulb moment), a few nervous shuffles looking at those around them to see what they thought… and then one or two who stared at me deadpan or whispered to the person next to them “yeah right, I don’t need that”.

Whether you are an accredited MHFAider, supervisor, leader, part of the Senior Leadership Team or even the CEO you need to start walking the walk if you expect the rest of the organisation to follow. With more focus on mental fitness, proactive self-care, stress management and overall wellbeing, how do you expect the others around you to step up if you’re not leading by example?

Take leave, have boundaries, detach from work, manage your stress, demonstrate proactive self-care and model appropriate work practices like not working at all hours – gone are the days where the person consistently sending emails at 9 pm is seen as a ‘hard worker’…. In fact, they are not proactively looking after themselves at all! This usually results in the person who receives the email feeling pressure to reply…. Yeah, that’s right – Even if you write ‘no need to reply until tomorrow’ 

And golly gosh…if you have an Employee Assistance Program then use it! Whether it is for a relationship problem, mental wellbeing challenges, stress, debriefing from conversations, coaching, finances, nutrition and goal setting – put your money where your mouth is.

5. People worry about ‘overstepping the line’

One of the key things I drum into my participants is the need to get curious. Yet so many people I meet are scared to ask the right questions because they believe they are meddling or overstepping a line into someone’s personal life.

Let me be clear – Getting curious is a pathway to trust and shows you really care about the person and their situation. Now obviously there is curiosity and there is curiosity. The former is asking specific questions to learn more about the person and their individual situation so offer the appropriate emotional and practical support. The latter kind is being nosy for the sake of it.

So next time someone says they’re tired or stressed? Don’t offer them your herbal remedy or cousins, sisters, brothers cure for something, ask why (refer to point 7 about being a fixer.)

6. Managing Performance and supporting mental health is a balancing act

A lot of leaders, managers and supervisors struggle to navigate the line between supporting someone in the workplace and managing their performance.

My opinion? Unless there is a direct safety risk, I would never start with performance-related concerns. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t start a conversation with ‘I have noticed you have been late a few times this week, is everything alright?’ but it is about making it really clear that it is not about their work, but about them because you care about them.

Performance Management is never the best place to start. In fact, it can actually compound the problem for them and make situations worse. The best place to start? With the WHY. Think of it as an iceberg – the tip above the water line is the things we see – absenteeism, presenteeism, conflict, missed deadlines, withdrawal, bad attitude… What is going on under the waterline? Relationship breakdown, sick child, domestic violence, dying parent, workplace stress, depression, anxiety… there are endless potentials. But unless you start with the why, you will never know!

Now that does not mean there is not a time or a place for performance management. In fact, quite the opposite. You absolutely do need to manage performance and you need to do it early. Many managers and supervisors ignore it and hope it goes away… guess what? It rarely does and now we find ourselves getting HR involved and all of that unpleasantness.

Suggestion? Start with the why, do everything you can (reasonably for both the person and the business) to support them, and if nothing changes or they don’t want your help –you need to manage performance.

7. A lot of people are fixers

Being a fixer is great in the business sense. Someone comes to you with a problem and you help them fix it and you move on. Great!

But we humans are complex beings who can’t always be fixed. Consider for a moment that someone might just want validation that they are allowed to feel like they do, or even empathy about how crappy their situation is. By trying to fix we:

  • Are often trying to fix a problem we haven’t heard
  • Make a heck load of assumptions
  • Assume someone wants/there is a solution to their experience.
  • Often unintentionally shame the person in the process 

So next time you have the urge to fix? Try getting curious instead and asking questions to try and understand the situation rather than fix it. You might be surprised. Oh and why are you at it? Make sure you give the person empathy… You don’t need to understand the situation but by empathising you are giving the person permission to feel what they are feeling. Now that is power!

8. (many) people see vulnerability as a weakness

Vulnerability is not weakness. Period. It is strength. Don’t believe me? Ask Brene Brown.

You still have to have boundaries – of course! It is not about oversharing and it is really important for it to be genuine

When we feel uncertain, at risk, exposed, uncomfortable we usually put on our masks or our armour. Vulnerability is about staying human. As Brown said ‘without vulnerability, we have no empathy’. What is one of the biggest superpowers you can have in wellbeing conversations? Uh huh…. Empathy. Can you see the problem here?

Brown also says ‘If you have set up a culture where vulnerability is viewed as weakness, don’t expect great results… if that is what is being modelled at the top? Don’t expect creativity and innovation and certainly don’t expect great things from your people – no matter what your metric is.’ 

C’mon who hasn’t felt vulnerable in the past 12 months? Did you put your armour up, or were you brave and kept it real?

If you don’t believe me watch this Brene Brown video, or this one, or this one…. You will most likely go down a Brene Brown rabbit hole…. You’ve been warned!

9. Small steps… baby

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are mentally healthy workplaces. It is all about continuously improving and challenging the status quo. Start small, or if you are well on your way, aim for better. Always.

Stigma and discrimination are still very much alive in 2021 so be aware although it may not rife in your workplace, a person may have had a bad experience elsewhere. Mentally Healthy Workplaces are ones that Commit, Communicate, Comply, Co-Lead, Connect, have Confidence through skills and have a Culture by doing.

Want to see how you are going? Download our Mentally Healthy Workplaces Audit