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How to check in with colleagues this R U OK Day

Last week, we talked about the importance of supporting mental health in the workplace. Mental health costs Australian businesses billions of dollars a year, and affects 1 in 5 of us in any given year.
Today is R U OK Day, which encourages all of us to take the time to reach out to a friend, a colleague or a family member, and ask, “Are you okay?”
We know that asking a colleague if they’re okay might seem a little awkward, and you may be unsure how to approach it. According to R U OK, it’s a 4-step process, which we’ve outlined below:

Ask R U OK?

When you ask a friend at work if they’re okay today, make sure that you don’t ask in a cursory or dismissive fashion. Make sure you have the time to hear the answer. Make sure that you ask them in a place that’s conducive to the potential discussion this question will elicit.
Essentially, don’t just yell, “Hey, are you okay?” across the break room while you’re waiting for the your leftovers to heat up. For the question to have any impact, you need to ask it in a way that is both sensitive and considerate.

Listen without judgement

If your colleague confesses that they’re not, in fact, okay, you need to be prepared to listen. Depending on what’s happening in their life to make them feel this way, you may be listening for awhile.
Put your phone away. Don’t be tempted to glance at your watch. A lack of interest may cause your colleague to shut down.
And above all else, do not interrupt with judgement calls or criticisms. At this stage, your job is only to listen.

Encourage action

Unless you’re a qualified counsellor, you’re probably not equipped to give appropriate advice to your colleague on how to manage their mental health.
What you can do, however, is encourage them to take further action. If your workplace offers counselling, you may want to direct them to that. Alternatively, you may want to encourage them to speak to their doctor about obtaining a diagnosis, or a referral to a mental health practitioner.
This part can be tricky – your colleague likely knows the options available, and is avoiding taking action for any number of reasons. If you have your own stories about having experienced mental health issues and having sought help, now is a good time to share that.

Follow up

Once you’ve had this conversation with your colleague, give them some time to process, and possibly take action to remedy things on their own.
In a week, check in with them and see how they’re doing. Ask if they’ve told anyone else in their support network, how they’re feeling and if they’ve been to a professional to talk yet.
If they’re yet to discuss their difficulties with anyone else, gently encourage them to do so, but don’t be pushy. This is their journey, and your job is to support them as they make it.
For more detailed information on how to ask someone if they’re okay today, visit https://ruok.org.au/how-to-ask.

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