Written by: Amanda James, COO, McLuhan & Davies Communications, Inc.
Summary: The current remote work environment can make it even more difficult to know when an employee is coping with a mental health issue. To set ourselves up to thrive in a post-pandemic world, we must help each other by creating spaces built around trust, respect, and compassion in the workplace. Learn how you can support mental health in the workplace with effective workplace communication below.
As the Chief Operations Officer of a business communications training company, I have witnessed the global pandemic change the way we connect and communicate, likely forever. We have been forced to adapt to a virtual way of working, socializing and even learning.
Although this has helped many businesses survive and even thrive, it can make it difficult for employers to know when an employee is coping with a mental health issue. The work environment we show-up in each day can make a real difference in our employee’s life when they really need it.
Mental Health in the Workplace
Everyone has been impacted by Covid-19 in some way. Your employees are likely dealing with loss, isolation, worry, and even burnout – but less than 30% of them are comfortable talking to a manager about how they are feeling.
There has been so much advancement in the conversations around mental health and the risks associated with ignoring it, but many people are still suffering in silence. To make matters worse, many of our regular outlets like going to the gym or spending time with friends and family are still not permitted in many parts of the world.
I experienced great loss last May when my Mother passed away. It was devastating personally and at a time when our company, like many others, was going through a massive business transformation. It is fair to say it was a very stressful time for me.
The experience gave me permission to be vulnerable and share a bit of myself with my team. The support I received at work motivated and gave me new purpose; it truly helped me to be a courageous and collaborative leader during a difficult time.
Mental Health Awareness
I have been inspired to write this article to bring attention to the significant role that employers play in their team’s well-being. As employers, we have a responsibility to care about our employees and make wellness a priority. This can begin by truly creating a culture of open communication where employees feel safe to speak up without fear of judgement or assumptions.
Five Effective Workplace Communication Techniques to Support Employee Mental Health
Here are five proven ways anyone can build a workplace culture of trust, respect, and compassion that will improve the overall well-being of your teams and your business.
Be an Active Listener
Help your employees feel heard. If we listen to each other, we help each other. It is a good sign when an employee feels comfortable talking and sharing. Sometimes this is exactly what they need to help them manage how they are feeling. So, make sure you make time to talk. Yes, we are all busy, but we should never be too busy to listen.
The characteristics of “active listening” are presence, curiosity and understanding.
You do not always need to provide a solution; you just need to be present. Resist the urge to talk when someone starts to share with you. When I reflect on my early days in leadership roles, I thought I was a great listener because I would hear a problem and immediately try to give my input and help with the solution. My intentions were good but not always helpful. This is a common mistake.
Now, I try to direct my full attention to the person I am speaking with. You can show that you are listening by maintaining full eye contact, turning off email notifications and putting your phone on silent. Give people the space to just talk without interruption.
Ask open-ended questions that give people the freedom to go where they want to go with the conversation. How are you feeling? How does that make you feel? Our human instincts are to show reaction – and respond in some way. The best way is to show understanding through empathy, not sympathy. Here is a quick example of the difference between sympathy and empathy.
- Sympathy “I’m sorry you’re feeling that way.”
- Empathy “I can imagine that is really difficult for you.”
Acknowledgement as Understanding
The most effective way to show your true understanding is through acknowledgement. Another common communication mistake is accidently invalidating what someone is saying. Instead, your goal is to acknowledge and validate what they are saying.
- Example: “I am so tired of COVID. I am going crazy at home.”
- Accidental invalidation: “Spending time outside really helps.”
- Acknowledgement: “I get it. It can be really tiring.”
Start to move from “listening” to “actively listening” by being present, curious, and showing understanding. You can build trust and deepen your connections this way.
Take the time to ask your team members and co-workers about their preferred communication style, how often they want to meet, and if they are ok with impromptu check-ins. One of the biggest stressors for employees is the breakdown in communication due to varying communication styles.
Our research shows that when we communicate, we do so in one of three distinct styles: analytical, interactive, or visual. If we do not recognize our own dominant style, or that of the person we are communicating with, we follow the recipe for communication breakdown.
Over the past year, many companies and employees have been faced with enormous change. I am a big picture, visual communicator who is comfortable making quick decisions and reacting to change. This style of communication has proven be effective during crisis situations, but it is important for me to recognize that not everyone on my team shares the same comfort with change and in fact it can cause them great stress.
For this reason, I sometimes need to slow down and work with everyone to understand how they are feeling. This helps me learn what they need from me to help them through any situation. The time in these conversations is exactly what you need to invest to get buy-in and collaboration.
Learning to adapt to others shows respect and you will ultimately have a more productive outcome.
Are you an analytical, interactive, or visual communicator? Take our free LINKSTM Online Assessment to discover your preferred communication style.
Respect Employee Privacy and Time
Virtual meeting or “Zoom fatigue” is real. Give employees the option to take a break from being on camera and always use an agenda; this will increase employee engagement. Have some fun. We do. Invite your pets to the meeting, try Friday “hat” days, and encourage playful virtual backgrounds.
One of our team members likes to be at the “virtual beach” during our meetings. This visual sparks light-hearted and interesting conversations and even adds a sense of hope that we can all travel freely again soon. For a moment, our stress dissipates.
Provide Positive Acknowledgement Vs. Praise
Provide positive feedback to your employees in the moment. Do not wait for performance reviews. Lead with acknowledgement vs. praise. When a manager praises an employee, it can often sound insincere and scripted. Make a point of providing positive acknowledgement – and you will get as much as you give.
- You praise the thing – i.e., great job on that project!
- You acknowledge the person – i.e. I noticed how hard you worked on that project.
Be Kind and Compassionate
Be kind to others. When you show sincere interest in someone with no agenda, it goes a long a way. I spoke earlier about the loss of my mother. When I reflect on the type of leader I aspire to be every day, I realize that my values come from what I learned from my mother. She was a very confident and strong person who showed kindness and respect to everyone she met, and that is her legacy. The most inspiring leaders I have met are courageous and strong, yet human and kind.
- Random Acts of Kindness
Encourage random acts of kindness in the workplace. These acts have proven to lower blood pressure, increase energy and overall happiness.
Here are a few ideas to get started.
- Surprise your team with a virtual lunch or treat.
- Offer to help an employee who looks to be overwhelmed with work.
- Start an idea sharing board that is collaborative.
You can deepen your connection with your team learn where to begin.
You can help employees feel cared for by establishing a workplace that acknowledges the importance of making wellness a priority. There is a strong business case to support employee well-being. Making sure everyone on our teams feels seen, heard, and valued is only the start. Build a set of guiding principles and actions that your company pledges to follow. Our company’s three key values are family, health, and community.
During these unprecedented times, it is important to put yourself in the shoes of the people on your team. To survive and set ourselves up to thrive in a post-pandemic world, we must help each other by creating spaces built around trust, respect, and compassion in the workplace.
Employers, it begins with us. We need to educate managers on effectively listening without judgement and offering support during a global event that has impacted every person on your team in one way or another.
Our communication techniques are the foundation for all other skills:
leading, speaking, writing, selling, and managing.