As an SME owner you’ll know the daunting task of being across all the aspects of your business, and concern for your employee’s wellbeing is likely one crucial element. This week there will rightly be a lot of noise and media traffic around R U OK? Day and what it means to individuals and communities.
On September 13 we are encouraged to ask those around us a blunt question, R U OK? Though the question seems simple, the reply can be anything but. As an SME owner, you must be prepared to have these types of conversations with your team, however not every business owner knows where to start, or how to navigate such sensitive conversations. Below are some ways in which you can be ready to have and handle important conversations with your employees or anyone in your network.
Before you begin
Be ready to have the conversation. Check in with yourself first and make sure you are in a good headspace. Ask yourself if you are willing to genuinely listen and can you give as much time as needed to the person you are approaching?
Be prepared that you won’t have all the answers and that not having all the answers is okay. One of the most important things you can do is really listen. When someone is talking about personal struggles it can be very upsetting for them. They may become emotional, embarrassed or upset.
It is important to pick your moment. Select somewhere that is relatively private and informal. Consider what time will be a good time for them to chat and also a time that allows you ample time to be able to have a proper chat. If they can’t talk when you approach them, don’t give up. Ask what would be a better time for them and if they are comfortable with you coming back to restart the conversation.
Starting the conversation
Try to be relaxed so you help the other person feel comfortable. Help them open up by asking questions like “How are things going for you?” or “I have noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately?” You may be able to mention specific things that have made you concerned for them, like “I’ve noticed that you have been really quiet lately, how are you going?”
It is important to listen without judgement and take what is being said seriously. If they need time to think, try to be patient with the silence and encourage them to share more with you so you can understand better. If they become defensive, angry or upset, stay calm and don’t take it personally. It is important to reassure them that you are asking because you are concerned.
After you have listened and the person feels heard and understood, it is time to encourage action. You may ask “What would be a good first step we can take?” or “I would like to help, what do you need from me?”.
Good options for action may be to suggest that they speak to a family member or trusted friend or their G.P.
It is important to check in or follow up to see how the person is doing in a couple of days’ time. It would be worth asking if they have found a better way to manage or cope with the situation. Sometimes the person hasn’t done anything. This is not a time for judgment or a lecture. This is an opportunity to be someone who listens and accepts to them. It may be helpful to ask “Do you think it would be helpful to you if we look for some professional or additional support?”
Please be mindful that it can sometimes take a long time for people to be willing to get professional support. It is a good idea to remain positive about the benefits of getting help and try not to be critical of their decision not to get help right away.
What is most important on R U OK Day or any day that we have these conversations is simply, that we have them. There is no expectation that they be perfectly executed or that you will have all of the right things to say. What is so valuable to someone who is not feeling okay is to know that someone cares and that there is support and resources available should they choose to access them.