How engaged are your people in your wellbeing check-ins?
Or, are you even doing them?
- Why leaders have such a hard time getting employees to open up
- How poor internal communication hurts organizations
- Ways to improve your surveys
- Strategies for increasing transparent communication in the workplace
How many of your employees are currently struggling with mental health issues?According to Harvard Business Review, 76% of employees reported at least one symptom of a mental health disorder in 2020, that’s up from 59% in 2019.
Three out of four employees experiencing mental health symptoms - how is this impacting productivity? How about the employee experience? These are serious questions to explore.
Yet when you ask leaders how their teams are doing, you often get a much different response. Actually, leaders rarely know how their people are really doing, and will often tell you things are ok.
This is because of the ‘I’m fine’ phenomenon.
And in my hundreds of conversations with leaders, I’ve found that it's pervasive.
Despite the alarming stats on mental health issues, leaders have a tendency to believe the people in their organization are immune to it. What explains this cognitive dissonance?
It turns out there's a good reason, it's simply because leaders are usually working with poor data. After all, employees are the ones who are not speaking up. If people tell you something, you tend to believe them, right?
But even though it's the employees who are providing the incorrect data, it actually starts with the leaders - since leaders often model these types of responses for their employees. Leadership within an organization can be volatile place, where strength is valued and weakness and vulnerability are shunned.
In this context, 'I'm fine' actually means 'I'm safe.' This becomes the gold standard within the organization, a strategy for not becoming the weak link.
And it also sounds good, you are fine! So the leaders are fine, and the employees are fine, everyone is doing just fine. Leaders welcome this response from employees because it means they don't have to add something to their long to-do list.
So in check-ins, I'm fine becomes a box that is quickly checked so we can move on. Unfortunately this begins to become a pure formality. One that is often inaccurate. This poor communication means you're missing crucial data, and ultimately makes your organization more vulnerable.
So how do we get past all these charades, how do we get real feedback?
This is actually my speciality, I go into organizations and help get this feedback from their employees. So let's look at two different solutions that I teach:
1. Level up your survey strategy
2. Teach and model open dialogue
As for surveys, I do not necessarily mean survey more. Actually, survey fatigue is a big reason why employees resort to the ‘I'm fine’ response. Being asked about your experience at work is initially flattering, but if your responses aren’t acted on by the company, it becomes insulting. And then when leaders continue to send you even more surveys, you just give up.
A good survey strategy will phrase questions in ways that get the most important data, while ensuring that the terminology is understood. For example when I survey for Burnout, I make sure to include a definition and example of Burnout, so we all know what we are talking about.
And most importantly for a survey strategy to be sustainable, it needs to be paired with action steps that will earn employees trust for engaging in future surveys. You need to demonstrate that their responses will lead to change.
Do not ask your employees questions that you aren’t prepared to deliver on, this erodes trust and greatly compromises your survey strategy in the longterm.
Strategy two is through open dialogue:
These can be done in one-on-ones, or in groups, and can be led by various individuals from C-Suite and managers, to outside experts. It can also be especially powerful for leaders to open up about their own mental health to demonstrate good faith and get buy-in from employees.
Remember, the main reason these issues aren't known is because the 'I'm fine' is modeled by leaders. So if you want open dialogue, leaders need to model something else, something more open and honest.
But, be careful what you ask for, because you might get it. Leaders opening up these conversations can find themselves hearing staff stories or emotional reactions they weren’t prepared to handle.
You can't just model open dialogue and then not know how to handle it when you get it, you need to also be able to hold space for what people may express. This is not always easy.
If this is starting to sound overwhelming, that’s because it can be. Mental health is a serious issue, and companies have their work cut out for them from younger workforces that increasingly expect this need to be addressed.
As a licensed mental health professional, I specialize in workshops and programs that do much of this work so you don't need to expect your leaders to do it. Contact me if you’d like some free resources or if you want to chat about solutions.