This year R U OK? is proposing that employees ask their colleagues some unexpected questions. AHRI’s Anne-Marie Dolan has a few things to say about the campaign.
I would like to think that the incidence of employees asking to borrow a colleague’s ‘toothbrush’ would be rare and it’s certainly never an issue I have had to deal with in my time as an HR manager. Sadly, I think the incidence of employees seriously asking each other about their state of wellbeing is also pretty rare. Conversations are common in the staff lunchroom, across the partitions and whilst waiting for lifts but often tend to remain at the more perfunctory ‘How are you?’ end of the scale, followed by a regulation ‘Good thanks’ rather than genuinely checking in on a colleague’s mental wellbeing. I think this reluctance comes from a number of understandable reasons – a fear of intruding, of saying the wrong thing, or just feeling like asking the question will open up to a conversation that we feel ill equipped to manage. Sometimes I think it is just the plain fact that we are all busy and don’t feel we have the time to give on someone else’s problems when we are trying to deal with our own.
That said, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to provide feedback on R U OK?’s new campaign around asking the unexpected to get your staff talking. R U OK? is a not-for-profit organisation whose vision is a world where we are all connected and protect each other from troubles that might lead to suicide. AHRI has had a long association with R U OK? including participation in the annual R U OK? Day as well as working with the organisation through our inclusion and diversity awards to recognise organisations that facilitate R U OK? Day activities. Through our awards process we have always sought out organisations that, as well as organising activities on the campaign day for employees to ask each other, use those activities to drive a more substantial initiative where these conversations are encouraged all year around. While a day of action can be motivating and bring the issue front of mind, it is more integrated programs which help keep the issue alive in the minds of employees.
The latest campaign supports the idea of ‘encouraging and equipping everyone to regularly and meaningfully ask our colleagues: ‘Are you ok?’ It involves the provision of resources such as posters, images, copy and tips for organisations to distribute and display as a regular reminder for employees to check in with each other. Workplaces have a duty of care to their staff and given that colleagues and workmates can be one of the most important sources of encouragement and support for maintaining good mental health, it is an easy step for an employer to assist in meeting that duty of care. I would love, as an outcome of this campaign, to see the posters displayed in organisations in a similar way that we currently see health and safety posters on staff room notice boards and worksites to help demonstrate the organisation’s commitment not just to physical health and safety but mental wellness as well.
While WHS safety is a front of mind issue for many employees with posters displayed, regular safety walks and updates on the intranet, mental wellbeing is often still touched on only in times of crisis when an employee puts a hand up to say ‘I need help’ and accesses the resources needed to get that help. We will be downloading the campaign posters and sharing the materials to help our employees develop good mental health practices in the workplace to complement the physical health and safety practices already in place.
What does your organisation do to promote mental wellness for employees all year around?
Visit ruokday.com/work to download posters, images, copy and tips to distribute the campaign.