` It’s good to talk: how to create an open and honest culture where employees can communicate mental health concerns | Reward and Employee Benefits Association (REBA)
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11 May 2022
by Beth Montgomery

It’s good to talk: how to create an open and honest culture where employees can communicate mental health concerns

Organisational leaders must ensure that their corporate cultures welcome mental health conversations

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Encouraging employees to talk about their mental health is difficult and they will only even consider it when they feel in a psychologically safe place. A workplace culture must be one of trust, integrity and openness so that people can ask for help and support without feeling embarrassed or stigmatised.

So how can you best create a culture of honesty and transparency, allowing mental health conversations to freely take place?

Modern Leadership

First and foremost, organisations must champion a modern leadership approach in which compassion and mentorship are key. When leaders are modern rather than traditional, they’ll also understand the importance of getting to know their people as individuals, advocating for them, providing an ‘open door’ policy and connecting their people together socially and emotionally. This approach is vital if employees are to be given a save space in which to unload and speak freely.

In contrast, if companies treat their people as merely workers, rather than people, employees are far more likely to feel burned out. There will also be decreased trust in leaders, resulting in resentment and disengagement.

Nurture a listening culture

Listening goes hand in hand with psychological safety. Employees will not voice their opinions or suggest new ideas if they fear retaliation or ridicule from the company, leaders or peers.

Speaking up is a risk that employees decide to take – do they want to potentially upset their leaders?

If employees are too afraid to speak their mind on business matters, they will be even less likely to speak up on personal matters. By creating a listening culture in which feedback and ideas are welcome, this is more likely to create a safe environment for mental health conversations.

As part of this listening culture, one-to-one meetings must be prevalent. They serve as a connection point between leaders and employees, encouraging authentic communication while providing

employees with opportunities to discuss any mental health concerns. OC Tanner’s Global Culture  Report highlights that burnout can be mitigated simply by having frequent one-to-ones in which both leaders and employees work together to set the agenda and craft a purposeful conversation. In fact, when one-to-ones are done well, an employee is 226% more likely to rate their employee experience highly and employee burnout decreases by 27%.

Diversity and inclusion

For people to have honest mental health conversations, the culture must be one of inclusion and equality. Every employee must be able to act authentically rather than ‘put on an act’, believing that their differences and unique qualities are celebrated rather than ridiculed or criticised.

Unfortunately, only 44% of employees say that their company’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts feel sincere, meaning there’s a long way to go before employees can truly feel a sense of belonging at work.

Companies that embrace D&I in all aspects of their business rather than running diversity and inclusion ‘initiatives’ are more likely to nurture a culture of belonging.

This means providing every employee with access to the same opportunities; ensuring employees feel comfortable talking about D&I with their leaders; encouraging leaders to appreciate all aspects of individual employees; moving away from categorising employees; and ensuring leadership represents employee opinions.

Wellbeing comes first

Employee wellbeing – and particularly mental health - must be an organisational priority, reflected in everything the company does. To build a culture of trust and transparency, there must be a genuine desire to put employees’ needs first, from ensuring people can shut off at evenings and weekends through to providing mental health support services and ‘first aiders’ – colleagues trained in mental health matters who can act as confidantes in times of need, with total trust and confidentiality.

And importantly, mental health MUST become part of everyday conversation, discussed by leaders without stigma attached. After all, when leaders talk openly about mental illness, employees feel more able to discuss their mental health issues.

Let the conversations flow

Organisational leaders must ensure that their corporate cultures welcome mental health conversations, from ensuring leaders are compassionate and understanding through to creating a sense of belonging. It’s only when employees feel they can speak freely and without stigma that genuine and potentially lifesaving conversations take place.

In partnership with O.C. Tanner

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