Checking in with Sarah Rudder

Roly Walter
8th April 2019

Guest blog post from Sarah Rudder, Founder Ginger Dog Development, specialists in the design and delivery of innovative and impactful people development activities.

What do you talk about with your team? Chances are you have some set topics for discussion at your monthly check in or appraisal – how are people getting on with their objectives, what progress are they making on projects, what development opportunities would they like? In your less formal daily conversations maybe you also talk about what happened at the weekend, the football or what your kids are up to. You’re building relationships with people, keeping them on track and helping them grow….but we have to take it further.

One in six working adults will struggle with a mental health issue during their lifetime so the chances are that if you are running a business or managing a team, you’re going to have someone sitting close to you right now who might be struggling with their mental health.Would you know?

According to Mental health charity Mind 93% of workers who have taken stress related leave have lied to their boss about the real reason behind their absence.When you look at your absence figures some of those colds, flus and back problems are likely to actually be stress, depression and anxiety.

The problem we face is that mental health has been so incredibly stigmatised that it’s difficult for people to open up and talk about what they’re experiencing in order to get the appropriate support.There’s a very real fear that this will lead to an employee being labelled as weak, unable to do the job and that this will lead to missing out on promotion or interesting projects.We have to shift this.Those regular check-in conversations can just be tick box exercises or they can make a real difference to the people we lead. As human beings managing other human beings, I would argue that we have a responsibility to start deepening these conversations.

How often do you start a check in or appraisal conversation with something along the lines of ‘How are things going?’ or ‘How are you?’The challenge I’d like to set you is to delve a bit deeper, pay close attention to the unspoken messages as much as the words you hear.Ask about the project that someone’s working on and how things are progressing then ask about how they’re coping with the pressure that progress (or lack of it) might be creating.Ask about their development and ask about their work/life balance.Create a conversation that addresses the whole person in front of you – the 5 – 9 person as well as the 9 – 5 (although Dolly Parton probably needs to reword that song for this modern world we work in!)

What if someone opens up and tells you that they’re struggling? Then ask them how you can support. Often the person best placed to know what they need is the person themselves and the solution is not necessarily time off. Encourage people to seek help via their GP or your EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) if you have one.Offer ongoing support and continued conversation.Keep having those ‘how was your weekend/did you see the football?’ conversations because they lay some of the groundwork for you to able to go deeper when you need to. Sometimes when times are tough work is the place that helps keep things ‘normal’ for people.

Finally if you’re someone that has experienced a mental health issue then I encourage you to open up about it with team members, peers and leaders – by talking appropriately about our own experiences we start to break down the barriers and destigmatise what so many of us are experiencing. We can make it OK to say that things are not OK.

Our job if we are managing people, regardless of what our job title says, is to create an environment where people are thriving not just surviving and that means bringing mental health into the conversations we have.