Leading a team or a business means working closely with other people. Managers become privy to the everyday habits of employees and can often predict the types of behaviour that may arise in a particular situation. What this means is that managers are in a good position to notice when something is amiss.

Perhaps an employee looks tired and stressed, or a worker is uncharacteristically turning up late several times a week. Maybe an employee is avoiding meetings and social activities, when previously they would happily lead these gatherings.

As a leader, checking in with employees is an important part of the job. Additionally, providing support by way of helping employees navigate difficult situations can mean the difference between having a happy, healthy, and productive member of the team or not.

Promote a mentally healthy workplace

With many managers not feeling comfortable enough to check in on employees, it highlights the need for businesses to build a mentally healthy environment that makes these types of conversations easier and less intimidating. Employers should look to increase protective factors in the workplace that promote positive mental health, and foster a sense of agency and decision making within the team. When leaders show a level of vulnerability, it invites others to do the same.

Focus on observable changes

Making it a priority to check in when there is a noticeable change or an employee is struggling at work is crucial. Managing this conversation is simple: managers should focus on observable changes in behaviour, mood, appearance and thinking – not what those changes could mean or what could be wrong.

If an employee has been typically punctual but is often late, that is an observable change. Advising the employee that there has been a shift in their punctuality four out of five days for the last two weeks is based on a factual statement. It is not loaded and it is not open to interpretation. It does not come with judgement and it is not deducing that something significant has happened in their life. As a manager, it is simply checking in and asking if everything is ok based on changes in recent behaviour.

Create a safe space

Employees can feel nervous discussing wellbeing with managers, so it is important to be clear that conversations around this are open with no judgement. Managers are in a position of authority, and from the perspective of the employee, there is a lot at stake and there is a lot at risk.This means that employees may curtail their experience so as not to affect the way they are viewed or valued by the business. Managers need to be clear that it is a safe space and that it is a separate conversation unrelated to performance, productivity, or outcomes.

Emphasise the right to privacy

A key element of creating a safe space for employees is privacy. As a manager, it is essential to express an employee’s right to privacy. Emphasise that any conversation is strictly private, and that it will not be discussed with others such as other team members or the HR department, without prior permission.

Explore adjusting their workload

It is not uncommon for employers to feel unsure of what to do if an employee is struggling. In fact, a recent survey found that 35% of managers have suspected someone was struggling at work but did not ask if they were okay. In these instances, it is important to note that it is not the job of employers to diagnose the problem or provide solutions. Managers must not presume to know what is needed by the employee in the situation; the focus should be on asking open-ended questions that facilitate action.

One of the most important questions is around workload. Managers should explore different options to help support employees such as redistributing or modifying the workload. Importantly, employers should work in collaboration employees and not assume what is needed; employees often still want to maintain connection and make a meaningful contribution to the business.

Checking in with employees about their mental wellbeing can make a big impact in the workplace. Fostering safe spaces for these important conversations and asking sensitive follow-up questions shows employees that the business cares and is there to offer support.

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