We spend eight hours a day with our colleagues; for many of us, that’s more time than we get with family and friends. And yet, though admirable strides have been made in destigmatising conversation around mental health, lots of people still feel unable to be candid in the office.
Why is this? Is it because we still view mental health concerns as a slip of the mask? Is it down to a fear that expressions of vulnerability will be viewed as defects in our professional profile? That it will make others feel uncomfortable?
It’s important to recognise the irony.
As human beings we are hardwired to connect with one another. From an evolutionary perspective, closing yourself off to those around you renders you less effective as a valued member of the group. Communication is a founding principle of our success as a species; working together enables us to achieve the best results.
It therefore seems obvious that creating a workplace environment where employees can seek support without fear of judgement makes great business sense. Sales targets and growth metrics are important, but happiness is the true indicator of a company’s success.
At the leadership level, we need to cultivate cultures that promote and foster kinship amongst staff. Socialising and team building activities offer a great opportunity to break down barriers and create a more open atmosphere; the better we know someone, the more we can be honest with them.
Indeed, openness is crucial to development – words are power and self-ownership. By talking about a problem, you are telling it who’s in charge. You can dismantle it down into smaller pieces and formulate actionable solutions to overcome it.
What’s more, knowing you have the support of a colleague fills you with renewed confidence – quite simply, talking brings relief and perspective; the knowledge that you are not alone.
On the other side of the coin, socialising allows us to become familiar with a colleague’s personality and traits. With this intel, it becomes easier to recognise changes in their behaviour – often a warning sign when somebody is struggling. We become more effective as individual providers of support.
Of course, talking to a trained professional is usually the most effective means of addressing mental health issues. But it often takes time for a person to feel ready; in many cases, the first tentative steps towards a full recovery are taken by sharing their thoughts and feelings with somebody they know and trust.
So, if one afternoon the serial hummingbird in your office hums no more, subtly ask them if all’s good. If someone looks stressed, see if there’s a way you can help them.
And if you’re feeling like things are getting on top of you, just remember that telling somebody you’re struggling is not a sign of weakness or poor performance. It’s actually a strength – the most fundamental of strengths developed by us humans.