Check-Ins: A Practical Step Towards Better Mental Health at Work
In recent years, mental health has gone from something barely discussed to a key workplace issue. While this represents great progress, many employees still feel unable to disclose their own struggles, or simply don’t know who or how to ask for help.
To compound this problem, conditions at work can exacerbate existing mental health issues, or even cause them. With this in mind, we need to do more to support our people – and that means introducing practical initiatives designed to help improve wellbeing and happiness in the workplace.
We need to spend more time understanding what work is like for employees at an individual level. After all, everyone is different. Some thrive in competitive, high-pressure environments, while others find them overwhelming and stressful. Some enjoy bustling and noisy office spaces, while others prefer peace and quiet.
If you force someone to work in an environment that makes them uncomfortable, issues such as stress and anxiety are inevitable. In many workplaces, managers never get to know their employees on a human level, and never take the time to find out what work is like for them. This must change if we are to tackle mental health in the workplace.
It’s good to talk
Perhaps the best way to do this is to encourage ongoing feedback and communication between managers and employees in the form of check-ins. These regular informal conversations are the perfect place for employees to raise any concerns they may have, or to discuss issues that are affecting their work or wellbeing.
Check-ins offer a new approach to performance management and replace the grossly outdated annual appraisal, which sees feedback given once a year as part of an expensive administrative process.
The annual appraisal tends to be purely performance-based, with the employee playing an almost passive role in the process. With check-ins, however, employees not only receive regular feedback and support around performance, but they are also encouraged to talk about their true experience of work – what’s going well, what’s not, and what could be done to improve things.
It is this part of check-ins that can play a crucial role in improving mental health at work. By working with their managers to make the conditions of work more suitable, we may be able to reduce those factors that contribute to poor mental health.
Of course, employees don’t have to disclose personal information about their mental health, unless they want to and feel comfortable doing so – which, in an ideal world, would be the case. But they could certainly be upfront about the aspects of work that are causing them undue stress or concern. This could relate to their working environment, the nature of their current role, their workload, or even their relationships with colleagues.
The bigger picture
While mental health is a distinctly human issue, it also has huge negative consequences for a business. According to the Mental Health Foundation, mental health accounts for 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK, and better mental health support could save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year.
Check-ins alone are not the answer to such a complex issue, but they could certainly help to make the workplace a more supportive and friendly place and encourage more human relationships between employees and managers. Through check-ins, we can start to make the workplace more conducive to good mental health, and go some way to tackling issues such as stress and anxiety.
According to research carried out by People First in the US, 35% of HR professionals report that their employees receive feedback annually, while 26% receive it bi-annually. So nearly two-thirds of the workforce sit down with their managers just twice a year or less, and often in the context of a formal process with little room for personal matters.
By shifting to check-ins, not only will employees have a better understanding of their goals and performance, but they’ll also have the chance to discuss those work-related issues that are affecting their wellbeing.
Of course, for this to work, organizations must have the right workplace culture and attitudes in place. That means creating an environment that is supportive and helpful, encouraging honest and open communication, and equipping managers with the skills required to handle sensitive personal issues.
Assuming all these things are in place, adopting check-ins is a practical step towards a healthier, happier, and more human workplace – and it could save your business a lot of time and money in the process. Isn’t it time you made the shift?