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Why you should check in on that colleague today

The signs of burnout and stress aren’t always easy to spot, especially if someone isn’t working in the office. We all have good intentions to be there for our teams, and we want to do what we can to help them thrive. But personal conversations with colleagues can easily fall by the wayside, whether that’s because of busy workloads, reduced face-to-face contact, or not knowing how to reach out. What’s more, individuals might feel it’s better to keep their pressures under wraps for fear of judgment if they feel there's a stigma around speaking out. Knowing the warning signs can help leaders and fellow colleagues anticipate potential risks and be there to support people when they need it.

Why you should check in on that colleague
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Get better connected

Employees now want much more than flashy perks. They want to feel valued, understood, and have a real sense of belonging in the workplace. Checking in with colleagues on a one-to-one basis and turning niceties into real opportunities to connect is a great place to start ensuring they feel valued and accepted. And our 2022 Workforce Attitudes Toward Mental Health report confirms this. It revealed that 82% of employees want their employer to not just ask how they are doing, but to genuinely care about the answer.

Taking time to hold compassionate conversations not only enables employees to open up and ask for help, it also empowers them to realize their potential at work. In fact, 9 in 10 employees say they do their best work when they feel included and connected to their team, and 88 percent agree that it’s important that they bring their “whole self” to work. They’re looking to leadership for clear signals about what’s acceptable, and they want to feel safe when sharing sensitive information.

As leaders increasingly check in with team members, employees’ fears of being judged for speaking about mental well-being decreases — and self-awareness rises. And everyone can be included, regardless of where they work. For virtual workforces, leaders can keep these conversations inclusive by asking employees to evaluate their feelings of stress on a scale of 1-10, or asking them about their top challenges at the moment. With video calling, they can pick up visual cues and body language signals to interpret employees’ feelings, as well as tactfully asking about their well-being and taking note of the way they respond. This is a great way to act intentionally and help everyone become aware of teammates’ personal pressures.

A framework for understanding stress and burnout

Leaders might find that some individuals are reluctant or uncomfortable about expressing their emotions, whether that’s because they’re concerned about being judged, or because they’re new, or junior, or naturally introverted, for instance. Beyond establishing an open culture, and speaking out themselves, leaders can also break down barriers by becoming familiar with stress and burnout indicators.

The World Health Organization characterizes burnout as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It’s defined by three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Employee burnout may be misinterpreted as a lack of commitment, a negative outlook, or a bad attitude, but often these signs are a call for help. The “Stress APGAR” framework can also help leaders get better at seeing the signs of stress before they develop into burnout. It’s used as a guide for managers to understand which questions to ask their team members in a more specific way, while steering them away from questions that could trigger denial or defensive behavior. The framework covers factors to think about across physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and social signs of stress, including:

  • Appearance: Visibly evident sleep disturbance, dejected posture and bodily pain (physical)
  • Performance: Impairment of cognitive performance (e.g., due to time pressure and information overload) (mental)
  • Growth: Loss of a sense of purpose, direction and hope for a better future (spiritual)
  • Affect control: Uncontrolled outbursts and irritability (emotional)
  • Relationships: Deterioration of relationships and social isolation (social)

Some of the questions leaders might consider asking when they spot these red flags can include:

  • Physical – How are your sleeping patterns? How do you maintain your physical and mental fitness?
  • Mental – How are you coping with the workload at the moment? How do you manage the performance pressures?
  • Spiritual – What gives you purpose and meaning at the moment? What are you and your team’s development objectives?
  • Emotional – Do you get easily upset when discussing work issues or personal topics? How do you cope with frustration?
  • Social – How are your key relationships at work? Do you ask for and accept help from others?

Stepping in with support

Awareness is the first step for every workplace well-being strategy. Once managers understand the drivers of stress and can identify workers who are at risk, they can begin to carve out the right support for their needs — whether that’s support from professionals or introducing stress management techniques such as meditation. Staying in close contact with these employees and maintaining conversations with all other individuals will equip you with the ability to understand evolving needs while fostering stronger work relationships.

To learn more about how to support your team’s well-being, get in touch. We’ll help you map out the best way forward for healthier, happier teams.

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