At the heart of what we do at AccessEAP is caring for others’ wellbeing – particularly their emotional health. For all of us directly affected by the lockdowns around Australia – and that’s now most of us – our emotional wellbeing is probably being tested. For example, many of us are missing physical touch – when was the last time you hugged a friend? I miss the regular face-to-face catch-ups with friends and family that, up until COVID, was a very regular part of my life. And most of us are now regularly seeing our work colleagues on a computer screen, rather than in person.
R U OK? Day on Thursday 9th September is a very timely reminder of the vital importance of checking in with each other – especially in these times of separation. R U OK? Day was founded by Gavin Larkin as a response to the suicide of his father. Gavin was determined to try to help others. He championed the fact that a conversation, starting with “are you OK?” can change a life – perhaps save a life. Out of that was born an extraordinary Australian organisation whose mission is to inspire and empower people to meaningfully connect with those in their world and lend support when they are struggling.
R U OK? Day creates an opportunity for us all to start a dialogue about mental health, to create an environment of acceptance, and to normalise asking for help. At work, Managers play a vital role in the culture of their workplaces. The most direct way to encourage discussion is through talking and encouraging others to talk, especially about what might be uncomfortable topics for some – such as their mental health. This is particularly relevant during these times of lockdown when it is hard for everyone and where we may feel fatigued and unsure of how we can help others. Leaders can empower their employees and facilitate a culture where it is normal to talk about how you feel and for others to actively listen without trying to ‘fix’ anyone. R U OK? Day is an opportunity to discuss the importance of learning the steps and skills on how to have the conversation. Lots of great guidance can be found on their website.
Our emotions are our friends. They tell us how our inner world is going. Learning to listen patiently to our emotions, to hear what they are telling us, and then acting in a way that adds to our wellbeing, is a skill learnt over the course of a lifetime. Talking with others about how we feel can help clarify what we need to do to take good care of ourselves. Having someone ask you, genuinely, “are you OK?” and then them waiting quietly for what you have to say, might be the difference between you feeling confused and lonely or feeling there is hope and a way forward. When we as leaders are experiencing similar challenges as our employees and also feel responsible for our employees’ wellbeing, it is important to remind yourself that checking in and connecting with others is just as valuable and powerful for yourself. It’s okay to not have all the answers and to reach out for support when you need it.
Sally Kirkright, AccessEAP CEO