It's R U OK? Day: Here's how to ensure your employees are feeling cared for

It's R U OK? Day: Here's how to ensure your employees are feeling cared for

With many workplaces split apart this year, the importance of R U OK? Day has never been more pronounced.

The national day of action is a reminder that every day is a day to start a meaningful conversation with the people in our world, and the workplace is one of those important sites.

R U OK? Day research has found 80 per cent of those who have recently spoken to someone about something that’s troubling them feel more supported and cared about, and 72 per cent say it helped them feel better about themselves and their situation.

So how can companies ensure their employees are feeling cared for?

According to chief people officer of people-management platform Employment Hero Alex Hattingh, business owners and employers need to lead from the front.

“Have your CEO and leaders speak to the importance of taking care of your mental health during lockdown. Remove the stigma. Acknowledge everyone's circumstances are different and this lockdown is not easy for anyone,” said Hattingh.

"Have an Employee Assistance Program to refer your employees to. If you don't have one, provide access to free resources.

"Send out a wellbeing survey to check in on your employees and see what support they need. If you don't have the budget for what they may be asking for, acknowledge that. Let your employees know.”

Hattingh said reaching out is particularly important during lockdowns when distance makes it difficult to notice how employees are truly feeling.

“Mental health impacts people deeply. You want your employees to be coping or they won't be engaged or performing at their best. Your employees will also remember when this is all over how you treated them. Friends and family talk too. Hearing that other companies are taking care of their people if your company is not, highlights this as an issue of not putting your people first,” Hattingh said.

“Juggling homeschooling, working from your bedroom all day because you don't live alone, feeling like you have to be online for long hours, all of these realities contribute to burnout.

"You have to allow your employees to feel okay telling you they are burnt out, tired, overwhelmed, or at risk of burnout.”

Chief people officer at global recruitment software solution JobAdder Graham Moody echoed these sentiments.

“Now more than ever is the time for businesses to walk the talk about how much they value and care for the people in their team. Even if there is pressure to perform in the business, it’s crucial that leaders make workplaces a safe place to talk about and prioritise mental health,” Moody said.

“Leaders have a big role to play and by demonstrating vulnerability and sharing their own mental health stories, it can help build deeper trust, connection and all-around psychological safety so that people feel OK to ask for help.

"It’s also a good idea to encourage managers and workers to regularly check-in on how people are feeling, especially while working remotely. It’s important to take that extra step to get past the default response of ‘yeah, I’m OK.'”

Hattingh also provided a raft of ideas for employers to implement in order to boost employee morale:

  • Provide access to an Employee Assistance Program. 
  • Talk about mental health through leadership - acknowledge it is okay to not be okay.
  • Make sure the human connections are still there. Allow people to stay on a Zoom All-Hands link after the meeting to connect socially.
  • Organise social virtual events, where human connection can still be had - even a fun event that the kids can join. We've done Drag Queen Bingo, we have a magician this Friday night. We allow extended families to also join the Zoom link from their homes.
  • Encourage exercise, good eating, family and loved one's connections through technology.
  • Theme up your All-Hands so people have something fun to look forward to: dress in your favourite sports team or get dressed up in formal wear.
  • Virtual team lunches where you eat together over lunch and just chat.
  • Team Trivia Quiz night has been a real hit! Some virtual events are more impactful in smaller teams.
  • Introduce online clubs and communities that align to people's passions and purposes: Cooking Club, Fitness Club, Wine Lovers Club, Bookclub, Gaming Club. 
  • Give people a lockdown leisure day so they can unwind (an extra day off).
  • Introduce online yoga sessions.
  • Make sure you have the right technology to be communicating and connecting in the right way.
  • As managers, remind your team to log-off. Notice if team members are online late and check-in with them.
  • Fun social channels through your messaging technology such as Slack. We have #animalsbeingcute as one example, where people upload photos of their furry family members all day. It puts a smile on everyone's face.
  • Recognise your people. We end each of our weekly All-Hands with Shoutouts where our people thank others for their amazing work that week. 
  • Have a lunch-and-learn with a wellbeing expert.
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