I have been reflecting recently about our role as colleagues and leaders in enabling good mental health. There are opportunities at all levels, from team mates through to the Senior Leaders of the University, to be a part of that: whether it is lending a listening ear to a colleague, or being part of a broad cultural approach to positive working and learning practices.
I want today to specifically focus on the role of line managers and local leaders in supporting those who may be experiencing challenges to their mental health. I regularly speak to many of those managers through 1-1 conversations and in workshops I run, and its always interesting to hear colleagues’ experience of how that works in practice.
Amongst the discussions of practices and processes, the one stumbling block that comes round again and again is the confidence to have the conversation with someone who they would like to support. Concerns are expressed about: saying the wrong thing; not asking the right questions; overstepping personal boundaries; being worried about the response they get or making it worse; a lack of knowledge about the condition or diagnosis; not knowing who to turn to, and so on.
Those are understandable, common and real concerns. Yes you might not quite get it right; no you may not know the best thing to say in that moment.
For me though, our duty of care to those in our team is paramount over our discomfort. It is almost always better to have a conversation, even a slightly awkward one, than not ask at all. When someone needs your help, often they will simply be grateful you have noticed and that you care. That you took the time to ask “how are you?” or even better “what support do you need from me right now?” You are not expected to be a mental health expert, and you are certainly not expected to “fix” everything, but I believe you do have a responsibility to support, signpost and guide.
As leaders and managers, being brave and compassionate in our actions are two powerful tools in our kit, and maybe we don’t get them out of the bag enough. What do you think? This will be the topic of our Leadership Circles this month, to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week (9-15th May). Our provocation is:
I’m looking forward to conversations unpacking that…is it our responsibility….is it too much to expect….should we be braver or leave it to the experts?
If you would like further support with your leadership role and mental health then your HR Advisors can guide you. Our Employee Assistance Provider CiC also has a dedicated Managers Adviceline. Also, this People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health, jointly produced by Mind and the CIPD is an excellent resource.
Juliet Flynn, Organisational and People Development Consultant