- Talking to others about one’s own mental health
- Step 1: Preparing
- Step 2: The conversation: Listening and holding space
It takes more than policy and permissions for conversations on mental health to become acceptable in work spaces. At the office, schedules, timelines and being high functioning are paramount. Talking about the exact opposite, i.e., the inability to be high functioning, the discomfort with sticking to routine etc. need some support. This support comes in the form of a safe space, affirmation of acceptance, and the awareness that there will be open conversations about how this impacts their work, their career. It is support that'll help prioritise and get back to higher levels of functionality.
To do this, we look at two angles:
- Talking to others about mental health
- Listening to and processing someone’s mental health realities
Talking to others about one’s own mental health
Step 1: Preparing
What do I need to do for a team member to feel safe enough to say, “I’m going through a mental health issue”?
Some easy ones to start you off:
- Do I have enough theoretical information to understand terms like “emotional well-being”, “mental health”, “anxiety”, “depression”, etc.?
- Do I have a sense of the pervasiveness of this issue in urban India? (For example, these references are not surprising for you.)
- Do I know what are okay/not okay responses to someone talking about mental health (their own/ in general)?
- Close to 50% of urban India has mental health issues
- How India sees mental health
- The cost of not thinking of this as a crisis
- Impact on business
- 70% of India that’s not a part of this conversation
- Help isn’t at hand
- Have I thought about my own mental well-being, and thought back to stages in my life, where I might have, not been a 100% well emotionally?
- Are there times, with hindsight, when I could have worked better with professional/ medical help?
- Have I talked about mental health as a topic in general to anyone in the office?
- Have I opened up about my own mental health questions/ worries/ struggles with anyone in office/ outside?
- Have I signalled openness to talk about this topic?
Step 2: The conversation: Listening and holding space
If someone wants to talk about their mental well-being, a few things to do in the first conversation:
- Schedule a 1-1 meeting
- Prepare for that meeting by
- Checking own biases
- Getting ready to listen
- Being mindful not to diminish their realities
- Allow the team member to lead the conversation
- Allow the conversation to meander
- Be prepared for the colleague to be feeling more sensitive than normal
- Ask questions to understand them better (Indicate that if some questions sound raw, they’re owing to inexperience and not intended to hurt). Ask questions such as:
- How are you feeling now?
- When has this been going on since?
- What’s changed for you in this period?
- What’s hard for you to do? What’s easy?
- How has work changed?
- What help can I give you?
- How can others (team/ others) help?
If a team member is talking to you about this because you are their leader, an additional few steps are:
- Is it an FYI and an ask for heightened awareness and understanding?
- Is it for information and preparation for possibly more leave/ shorter working days/ any other need they are feeling currently?
- Is there an ask for immediate reduction in working hours/ days/ time off/ other support that might require further checks with others?
Step 3 (relevant for leaders): Evaluating impact
In addition to the above, where you are preparing for the conversation, checking your biases, checking how you feel about receiving this information, reorienting yourself if needed to being supportive, you have more work on hand. Read on:
Impact on delivery of work
- Tight deadlines
- Long working hours
- Detail focused tasks
- Facing demanding clients
- Working on client site
- Other challenges that might make it harder for them to deal with this
- Move the person out of the project into something more suitable for them, without negative impact on their emotions/ sense of value
- Move the person without significant adverse impact on client/ project, with no data shared to the client that has been shared by the team member in confidence (this is an internal matter between you and the person, your manager, and People Ops, at the maximum. The team member decides who else to share this with)
- Ask yourself if any action you are considering will have an impact on the team member’s career.
- If the team member gives you an okay to talk about this with your manager and People Ops, get more opinions on impact of work on the person and best possible way of helping them.
- Will there be a slowing down of their career progress? If the answer is yes, how can we communicate that gently, and with care. In doing so, make sure you are
Impact on the team member’s career
- Sharing data to support what you are saying
- Putting yourself in the shoes of the person and thinking through how they are experiencing this
Impact on the team & client
Step 4 (relevant for leaders): Conversation to loop back your understanding & impact on their work
Impact on the team & client
Remember that there is an escalation matrix - if you feel uncomfortable for any reason, after any level of this conversation, please reach out to the People Ops folk.
The emotional well-being of team leads and managers
It is important to remember and acknowledge that team leaders and managers will go through the same emotional strife cycles as the rest of the organisation does. When that happens, they have to take into account the responsibilities that come with being a people manager: responsibility towards work delivery and towards career goals of team members. Often, leaders will put their own needs last, despite identifying a stressful or burnout situation they find themselves in.
It is critical for leaders to recognise that when not well, they are putting themselves at risk to further fatigue and loss of motivation to work. They cannot lead as well as they would have done, and that is not fair to their team members, in addition to unfairness to themselves.
What can leaders do
What can team members do
To be an effective leader, it is important to remind oneself that in taking care of self, it becomes easier to take care of others. What we demonstrate as desired behaviour gets picked up and becomes culture over time. Care towards self will pave the way for care for others.