This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme for 2024 is about movement and how this can positively impact our wellbeing. It’s one thing to encourage your team to move more; whether that’s taking regular breaks from their screens, having walking meetings (we call these ‘walkie talkies’), or providing yoga classes during the day. While these initiatives promote movement, focusing on fostering a workplace culture where team members are empowered to take ownership of their wellbeing will ultimately create a culture of wellbeing every day—not just for Mental Health Awareness Week.

Lead by example

Your behaviour sets the tone. If you don’t take breaks from your screen or encourage movement during the day, it will have a greater impact than you can imagine. This goes for all aspects of wellbeing, not just movement. Do you take a lunch break? Are you working all hours throughout the day, or do you role model switching off and finding that work-life harmony?

Openness and humility

Create an ‘open door’ policy; make yourself approachable for conversations. The more conversations about mental health, stress, wellbeing etc. happen every day, the more it becomes part of our culture. Keep conversations confidential to encourage open communication.

Empower, don’t advise

When team members come to you with their challenges, ask great coaching questions to help them come up with their answers. They are more likely to commit to an action that way, creating wellbeing ownership. Imagine this: a colleague comes to you and tells you the workload is too much and they’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed. You spring into action and work out a plan of what tasks on their list can be moved or postponed. You think you’ve ‘fixed’ the problem, and the team member goes about their day-to-day. Only to find that two weeks later, they’re still feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

Let’s imagine you empowered your colleague instead. Try using questions like these:

“Do you know when you started to feel overwhelmed and stressed?”

“Have you felt like this before, in the past? What helped you then?”

“Tell me more about that.”

“If you were to move away from this stress, what would you be moving toward?”

“What could you do to help you make that first step? What is the first step?”

“What do you need from me, your colleagues, to help you take that step / action?”

“If you commit to doing X, how different would your life be?”

Focus on developing skills in emotional intelligence

Often, the issues brought to managers tend to be surface issues. Therefore, if we can get to what is really going on, we can better enable and empower others. The solution we might come up with isn’t necessarily going to be the right one for our team. We’re not them, so only they know the true answer and what they need. It might not be a reduced workload in this example, and sometimes we cannot reduce the workload.

We need to focus on the person’s relationship with stress and their coping mechanisms rather than trying to take away the stress for them. By doing the former, you enable them to cope better next time they feel overwhelmed, and they may be able to do it more independently because you’ve helped develop their emotional intelligence.

The more emotionally aware we are, the more we can act for ourselves instead of blaming the workplace or situation. Consider training and coaching for you and your team to help develop these skills.

Continually nurture team spirit

This is an ongoing process among the team. Strive to do regular things every day that create opportunities for team members to be social and have fun! Create psychological safety for team members to feel comfortable being vulnerable. This will create more harmony and trust, which will support team members to be confident in talking to each other and supporting each other.

While big team day events are good, try not to leave it just at that. Find something for every day.

Normalise mental health and wellbeing

Talk openly about how you manage your mental health. Share education about mental health at work to help engage conversations.

Avoid making signposting the immediate response

Imagine talking to your manager about something that makes you vulnerable, and it takes so much courage to even start the conversation. Now imagine that manager responding with a solution that is focused solely on signposting. What does this actually communicate? It could say ‘help for you is out there’ as opposed to saying ‘I am here for you’. Which would you prefer?

Having support and resources are still an important part of mental health first aid; just don’t make it the first thing. If you were my manager, I’d rather you said something like, “that sounds really tough, is there anything I can do to help?” Using coaching questions, I am more likely to feel empowered to seek professional help if I have named the idea / action myself. Lastly, simply talking to you as their manager might be a very big part of the solution that either party may not even be aware of until they’ve journeyed through it.

Our listening and empathic skills as managers are so important, and it’s something that can be learned. Consider training and development for your team on listening skills.


Words by Tracey Dangerfield.

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