Pragmatic Optimism #6: An empathetic approach to mental health and well-being programs

May 28, 2020

Pragmatic Optimism #6: An empathetic approach to mental health and well-being programs


Hey everyone, hope you're well. In today's video on pragmatic optimism, I want to go deeper into a topic that's becoming increasingly important on the road to recovery, and that's mental health.

Last year, the Shared Values Project, in partnership with PWC, released in-depth research showing that 45% of Australian workers experience some form of mental health issues during their working lives. And now with the pandemic, I think it's fair to say that the spotlight is brighter than ever on the need to support mental health and well-being in the workplace.

However, in this video, what I do NOT want to do is to talk about what types of programs that businesses can put into place. And the reason for that is because in last week's video I said: "There is no 'one size fits all' approach to mental health and well-being."

Instead, what think IS important is to first start from a position of genuine empathy. And what that means is being able to put ourselves in the shoes of other people and think about the variety of mindsets and challenges that people might be experiencing. So let's consider what some of these challenges might be:

  • Some people may have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Some may be afraid of returning to the workplace for fear of getting sick
  • Some people may be in positions of financial distress and worried about losing their homes, or have partners who are worried about losing their jobs
  • Self-isolation may have increased levels of anxiety or depression due to lack of social interaction. Whilst conversely, some people may be looking forward to returning to work because they're craving social interaction
  • People's work and home lives may have blurred together, something that I can definitely relate to. And in many cases, we might be looking forward to the structure of returning to a workplace.
  • And extending that even further, some may be looking for a distraction from the pandemic.
  • There are people who will still be managing the stress of looking after dependents, such as children or the elderly.
  • And finally, I do think it's important to also acknowledge that there will be a subset of people for whom there is no issue whatsoever.

And now, let's also put ourselves in the shoes of leaders and business owners. Because in addition to all of those challenges that I just listed, there may be additional pressures that they're also facing:

  • Some leaders may have had the unfortunate experience of managing teams in which team members have died or their loved ones have died.
  • For others, they may be dealing with the stress and challenge of having to let people go.
  • All whilst dealing with the constant pressure of keeping a business operational and alive during this time of the pandemic, which means looking after customers, looking after suppliers.
  • All of these can contribute to a loneliness in leadership, where the leaders feel like there's no one there to be able to support them.

Thus, putting on my pragmatic optimism hat, I am optimistic that as a broader community we are shining ever brighter spotlights on the need for mental health and well-being support. However, pragmatically, when we consider the myriad of challenges that people might be going through, my takeaway is that it's more important than ever for us to start from a position of empathy so that we can put in place the right interventions that can genuinely help people.

For example, a close friend of mine recently shared that the organisation he belongs to took a highly proactive approach to mental health and well-being, which is great. Except that they pushed the program so hard and so intensely that people actually started to disconnect from the program.

If you are looking for ideas, suggestions or additional resources on mental health interventions, please do check out my definitive guide on reopening offices in the links below.

And of course, I'm always interested in your thoughts. Have you been involved in mental health and well-being programs that you felt perhaps didn't really take your needs into perspective? Or what else can we do to focus on people so that we can improve mental health and well-being programs?

As always, please stay upbeat, stay safe, and I'll see you next week.

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