Authentic Communication & Radical Transparency
As we navigate one of the most uncertain periods in recent memory, research is suggesting that the mental health of our employees has significantly deteriorated. An employer-led approach, focusing on authentic communication and radical transparency, is necessary, now more than ever, to tackle this challenge.
A recent Paychex study on employees found that fifty-four per cent of respondents felt uncomfortable talking to their managers about their mental health, thirty per cent feared that this could lead to them being made redundant and twenty-nine per cent thought it could interfere with the likelihood of getting a promotion. These findings indicate that a serious problem with attitudes and perceptions towards individuals presenting with mental health difficulties still exists. This same study also found that nearly half of employees reported a decline in their mental health, motivation, morale, productivity and stress since the outbreak of Covid-19. So the question is not whether or not approaching this conversation with employees needs to be on the agenda. The question we are faced with here is how we do it. How can we as leaders reframe the narrative to encourage people to share their difficulties? How can we ask our teams to share their worries and concerns about; the uncertainty that lies ahead, the difficulties that come with remote working or the fear about returning to the office? In this era of anxiety and chronic uncertainty, progressive leaders are showing up and asking how can we provide mental health resources, train leaders and adapt our cultures to protect the mental health of our employees?
Essentially, if you are not hearing about your employees’ concerns, they are either sharing them somewhere else or not at all. This is not what you want. It is in your company’s interest to start caring about your people’s wellbeing, as eventually this takes a toll on people and productivity becomes remarkably impacted. The key here is prevention and intervening before crisis point. One way of doing this is by opening up the dialogue with your employees. Of course now you are asking, how do I initiate this conversation in an effective and professional manner?
You can use these five accessible measures to authentically open up the communication lines and explore radical transparency in the context of employee mental health:
1. Acknowledge that there is a difference between mental health difficulties and stress. In order to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health, it is important that we do not use stress as a euphemism for anxiety or depression. The goal here is that people feel “psychologically safe” to state that they are struggling with a mental health condition, just like we would a physical illness.
2. Clearly inform employees about the accommodations and resources which they can avail of in your organisation. An excellent initiative here is “normalising” (for want of a better word) and encouraging employees to take time off, if they are feeling overwhelmed by their mental health.
3. As leaders, display vulnerability and talk about your own experience with mental health, if this feels comfortable. Further, embodying transparency is vital to support those around you, as it breeds trust and fosters openness; both necessary traits for opening up the dialogue around mental health.
4. Be brave and ask the uncomfortable questions. You can start gently with an open-ended question such as, “How have things been recently?”, “How have you been finding the last few months?”, “Is there anything else you would like to talk about?”. Initially, you may not receive the desired response, however, this action sows the seed with the person that you are available to listen and it may act as the first step towards change.
5. Empower your employees to make choices in terms of what they need rather than prescribing this for them. Ownership and acceptance of one’s own difficulties are essential to the recovery journey.
The need for authentic communication and radical transparency is at an all-time high. It will build trust and openness to transcend through organisations; facilitating and empowering individuals who are struggling to reach out and ask for help. As leaders, we have a duty to encourage this process by setting the precedent and continuing to break down the mental health stigma.