R U OK? Promoting psychological health and safety at work
In honour of R U OK day, Bupa’s Psychological Health and Safety Specialist, Emily Meates, discusses the role workplaces play when it comes to a person’s mental health. Here you’ll find some practical ways leaders and businesses can help create a more psychologically safe workplace.
Mental health and wellbeing has traditionally been seen as the responsibility of individuals and their family or friends. How is this changing?
There’s no denying that we all have a responsibility to take care of our own health and wellbeing. However, we spend a significant amount of our time at work, and organisations have a valuable role (and wonderful opportunity) in not only the prevention of mental health conditions but also in reducing stigma, raising awareness, encouraging early intervention and providing support throughout a recovery process.
Importantly, as an organisation we also have a legislative obligation to prevent harm (including psychological harm) to our people.
What is psychological safety at work?
Psychological safety is present in a work environment when people feel safe and comfortable being themselves and can openly speak up without any fear of judgment.
It’s an environment that facilitates trust and respect amongst team members and their leaders.
These qualities allow people to feel comfortable to reach out for help, which can prevent issues from occurring or escalating, or admitting if a mistake has been made. This gives an employer the opportunity to rectify errors as quickly as possible and gives our people the opportunity to learn and grow.
Life can present us with many unexpected challenges. At Bupa we work to ensure our people feel valued for who they are, supported for their unique needs, and safe because Bupa has the right systems in place to protect them.
What can workplaces do to actively create a psychologically safe working environment?
It’s important to remember that we all have a role to play in creating a psychologically safe working environment.
There are a number of ways that workplaces can create psychologically safe environments:
Make information and resources easily accessible to help employees better understand mental health, how it may impact someone, and the workplace support available.
Arrange and participate in activities which raise awareness of mental health to reduce stigma surrounding mental ill-health.
Encourage employees to share their own experiences of mental health with others as another way of reducing stigma surrounding mental ill-health.
Encourage employees to do their own research and upskill their own mental health literacy. This can support people to understand what someone who is struggling with their mental health may be experiencing.
Encourage employees to speak up when something isn’t feeling right or if there is a better way that a workplace may be able to support them.
Leaders can effectively foster psychologically safe environments through a number of simple practices:
Know team members as individuals with unique needs. Everyone’s experiences of mental health are different and knowing what someone’s ‘normal’ looks like (i.e., their usual behaviour within the workplace), can help us to quickly identify when something has changed. These changes are often an indication that someone may not be coping, and recognising changes gives us an opportunity to open a conversation and offer support early.
Talk openly and respectfully about mental health. Talking openly as a leader can demonstrate that you are confident and comfortable to discuss the topic and increases the chance of team members speaking openly in future.
Provide role clarity and purpose to ensure team members experience minimal stress and team conflict and are feeling satisfied in the contribution they are making within their role.
Set a standard of acceptable behaviours. Behaving appropriately within a workplace contributes to a positive workplace culture and environment.
Recognise and celebrate achievements, to improve morale, feelings of being valued and job satisfaction. A lack of recognition is a risk factor for psychological distress at work.
Be a positive role model. Engage in practices and activities that support overall health and wellbeing and encourage team members to do the same.
Be open when times are tough. Acknowledging the reality of challenging times within a workplace ensures team members feel confident that as a leader, you have a clear grasp on not only the situation but what they as team members may be needing in response. This acknowledgement may provide people with an opportunity to feel safe to speak up.
Offer support at every appropriate opportunity. Take time to regularly check in with team members, to maintain an open communication channel. Extending offers of support, even if it’s as simple as having a caring conversation can support people regardless of their mental health.
What's Bupa doing to help create a psychologically safe worplace?
Over a number of years, we have worked to ensure that there are a variety of initiatives to support and enhance mental health and psychological safety.
We have made a broad range of information and resources available to our people on various mental health topics, so that they have opportunities to enhance their understanding, take care of themselves and understand the signs of someone who is not coping. This has also included endorsing avenues of appropriate support, both inside and outside of Bupa.
Bupa raises awareness of R U OK Day each year to reduce the stigma surrounding mental ill-health and encourage people to be brave and have open, caring conversations.
Bupa recognises Mental Health Month each year in October, where we interview some of our employees to share their experiences and encourage others who may be struggling to speak up and access support. We also run a number of internal competitions encouraging blogging on our intranet about personal experiences of health and wellbeing. We have an employee health and wellbeing program called Smile, which really focuses on our people’s holistic health and wellbeing.
We have designed and delivered a number of initiatives aimed at enhancing leadership capability to support mental health and psychological safety, including a “Supporting Mental Health Guide for Managers”, numerous online learning modules, training programs and certifications such as Mental Health First Aid and Suicide Awareness and Prevention Training.
We have also developed fun, practical and simple resources for teams and individuals to understand how important it is to take care of themselves both inside and outside of work. We have created resources increasing education around reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, as well as increasing education around bullying and its impact on mental health and wellbeing.
What is Bupa doing for R U OK Day?
This is the third year we have jumped on board the R U OK Day campaign. Following the success of previous years, we have created ‘activation packs’ for individuals wishing to raise awareness within their local working environment and teams. The packs include a variety of R U OK merchandise to create visibility of the important campaign, information on available support at Bupa, and some key messages to share on the day. Importantly, those raising awareness will be provided with guidance on what to do if someone is not okay, including internal avenues of support.
How teams raise awareness on the day is up to them, many choose to hold a morning/afternoon tea, a team lunch or a walk outside the workplace to meaningfully connect.
We are also expecting to see lots of photos, stories and experiences shared on our intranet throughout the day!
If you reach out to someone on R U OK Day, and you realise they’re not OK, what should you do?
The R U OK Day steps are both simple and effective. Firstly:
- Prepare yourself to ask the question (make sure you’re in a good headspace, have time to listen and be prepared that they may not be okay).
- Have the conversation in a place that’s private and informal where you can listen without judgment (give the person time to think and take what they say seriously).
In a case where you find a person isn’t okay, the next best step is to encourage action. Asking questions like, “What would be a good first step we can take?” or “How can I help you with this?” can prompt someone to identify what they may be needing.
Other good avenues for support may include talking to trusted family or friends, a GP, or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through their work, if this is available.
If someone is needing more urgent support, that is, if they mention that they are thinking about taking their own life, encourage them to call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
Importantly, remember to check in on the person in a few days’ time, to see if they have accessed any support or found ways to better manage their situation.
If life is ever in imminent danger, contact 000.
Tell me a bit about your role and your purpose at Bupa?
I’m a Psychological Health and Safety Specialist within Bupa’s Wellbeing, Health and Safety Team. As a team, our approach to wellbeing, health and safety is underpinned by Bupa’s purpose; to help people live longer, healthier, happier lives.
Bupa is a global health and care business and our people are our greatest asset. We are all responsible for doing everything we can to protect our customers, patients, residents and each other from harm, and to promote wellbeing.
The Psychological Health and Safety Team works to increase Bupa’s capability to prevent and manage psychological risks through leadership practices, people processes and policies. My role involves designing and managing mental health initiatives to support the mental health of our people, as well as the provision of psychological advisory to the business both proactively, to support positive mental health outcomes and reactively, to mitigate the impact of activities that threaten to cause psychological harm to our people. We work to ensure that our people feel safe, valued, and supported for their unique needs.
Asking R U OK is a simple question, that has such a powerful impact to someone who might be needing to connect and talk through their worries or concerns. Be brave and ask the question, not only on RUOK Day, but every day.
Also, remember to check in with yourself throughout the process of supporting others, practising self-care enables us to be the best version of ourselves and helps us to support those around us even better.