Two weeks ago, I watched an episode of Insight titled ‘Mind at Work’. It discussed in detail the topic of mental health in the workplace. The very next week, I overheard a conversation on public transport in which a woman discussed how much a colleague’s drinking is affecting their team, but that she is too scared to say anything as she is worried she could be fired for doing so (even though all she is really doing is showing care for her colleagues).
Listening to both of these (albeit slightly different) discussions really made me reflect on my own mental health and my relationships in the workplace. It has made me realise how lucky I am to work with the people I do here at Leading Teams, and that I want to get the word out that it is possible to have genuine conversations with colleagues and that doing so can really help.
Fear of judgement
The panellists on Insight, and many of the audience members, felt that they could not open up to colleagues or managers about their struggles with their mental health for fear of judgement, change in attitude toward them, or the security of their job.
The fact that so many people feel that they have to hide a part of themselves from their team is saddening. Many people who work full-time spend more time with their colleagues than their partner / family and the fact they cannot relax and be honest about themselves at work must be so draining.
Finding an ‘office angel’
On the flip side, there was also discussion about the positives from those who had confided in a co-worker about their illness and how supported they felt after sharing the information. One panellist referred to the colleagues that he had trusted with his illness as ‘office angels’. These comments helped to reassure me that when someone does open up to an ‘office angel’, they were often able to get the support they needed.
The likelihood of a positive outcome seemed to be influenced by the relationship already established with the confidante. In a group / team, you will always have varying levels in the strength of relationships with each person, so perhaps start the conversation with someone you really trust. There is no need to shout it from the rooftop for all to know, but it is often a relief to your colleagues to understand what you are going through. A number of people in the Insight discussion mentioned how glad they were that a colleague had felt able to confide in them as they were now be aware of the situation and in many cases, they could actually help.
Having genuine conversations
With the conversation on public transport, the fact that the actions of this team member were obviously having a major impact on the rest of the team, yet they weren’t able to approach him or a manager about it, is surely quite unproductive. Although excessive drinking is not necessarily a mental health issue (but quite possibly could be), the lack of genuine conversation about the problem could have a severe impact on the team and their overall performance. Having a genuine conversation, and having the ability to give and receive feedback in a ‘safe’ place, is extremely beneficial in situations like this. Creating the safe environment to have these conversations does take time and effort in developing strong professional relationships. This road can be challenging at times but if all participants are willing to try, you are half-way there.
My own experience
After reflection, I feel blessed to work with the team I do. I work in a team that genuinely cares about me and my wellbeing, to the extent that I can talk to any of them without fear of judgement or the security of my place at Leading Teams.
I can say that the journey to get to this point personally has been tough, and sometimes I still hesitate to pick up the phone. But at least now I know that the nerves and anxiety attached to the initial conversation is me challenging myself to be better, and that in turn will make our team better.
Some people reading this may be thinking, “that all sounds well and good, but it would never be possible in my workplace.” Believe me, I have worked in teams before where I would have said the same thing. But now, after seeing firsthand the simplicity and logic of the models used at Leading Teams, I know that it really is possible to have genuine conversations in all workplaces with the right support. Yes, it takes time and effort to build these strong professional relationships and the psychological safety of a culture that is supportive of genuine conversations. But I truly believe it is all worth it for the difference it can have on you personally and the impact it can have on the entire team.