Imagine that the next time you pass one of your colleagues in the hallway and ask “How are you?” instead of “Great, thanks! And you?” you hear one of the following responses:
• “Ugh, I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin—I have to start eating better and exercising.”
• “I’m overwhelmed with trying to take care of my work and my sick child, and both are suffering because of it.”
• “I’m spending more than I make, and it’s all I can think about.”
Candid responses like these are sometimes uncommon in today’s workplace. While some people are hesitant about opening up to leadership team members about mental-health, substance-abuse, financial or family trouble, most of us will go out of our way to help a colleague feel better.
We’ve all seen the studies about how healthy employees are happier and more productive. Here are a couple of ways to support your employees’ well-being.
Encourage real talk in a safe space
You can ask your employees how they’re doing all you want, but if you don’t already have a culture that encourages candor and care, then your workplace wellness program will do little for you or your colleagues.
To create this type of working environment, leave the door open for honest dialogue. It’s about treating a person with a substance-abuse problem or an eating disorder the same way you would treat someone with a broken arm. You would not want a colleague to hide a broken arm for years. You would urge them to seek professional help right away, give them the time they need to heal, and ensure that they are working with human resources and maximizing their available benefits to cover not only their medical bills but also the time off they’ll need to take.
By encouraging open dialogue, you can create an opportunity for employees to feel comfortable coming forward in a safe and discreet environment without being stigmatized.
There is a good chance you’re not aware of the problems people face outside the office—problems that they bring to work with them every day. In my role, I know everyone at one time or another faces personal challenges with themselves, family or friends. Most employees keep these challenges to themselves.
A recent study done by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation confirmed what so many in our industry already suspected: that lawyers are more likely to experience substance-abuse and mental-health issues than people in other professions. That’s why we signed the ABA’s pledge to tackle mental-health and substance-abuse issues in the legal industry in 2018, with a renewed focus on wellness.
We’ve been able to use the Betty Ford study and the ABA pledge as an opportunity to educate ourselves, and all our employees, about the legal industry’s heightened risk for alcoholism, substance abuse and depression. Through this educational program, we’ve been able to reiterate that, even in a professional services industry, you have to focus on taking care of yourself first so you can better serve your clients and nurture your loved ones.
Model the behavior you’d like to see
Keep asking, “How are you doing?” and be prepared if the answer isn’t “Fine.” Keep giving honest answers when you’re asked the same. It is a small but meaningful way to encourage open dialogue around personal and professional wellness within your organization.
The key to promoting true wellness at work—and beyond—is not just in the policies and programs you have in place, but in the dialogue you foster. People are our greatest asset. While we are all overwhelmingly busy, strive for a culture of caring.