Inspirational Speaker, Speaking Coach & Mentor Nick Elston
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Employee wellbeing: why HR's role is to empower, not fix, people

As more of us than ever before struggle with mental health and wellbeing issues, it’s important that HR leaders have the right tools at their disposal to empower people to help themselves.  

13th Jan 2021
Inspirational Speaker, Speaking Coach & Mentor Nick Elston
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How can we help people? Actually, the more powerful question is ‘how can’t we help people?’ This seems like a strange take on the situation that we currently find ourselves in – as HR leaders, and also as a global community – surely the desire to help as many people as people should be considered a kindness.

Switching your mindset from one of trying to ‘fix’ people to one of empowering people eases your burden and encourages you to have more conversations.

With more people struggling with mental health challenges, anxiety and stress levels growing, plus the underlying fear that we were all feeling as 2020 drew to a close, no doubt there will be an increase in the conversations you will be having with your people about these adversities in the year to come.

It seems to be a human flaw, however – a kind one, done with the best of intentions – to want to ‘fix’ anyone that comes to us with an issue. This is damaging you and potentially discouraging you from helping more people. When we take on their problems, we immediately feel their pain, we shoulder their burden and before you know it, if you have a team of ten people, you have 11 people’s burdens on your shoulders – and that’s before you even get home.

The alternative is that we become so anxious, scared or overwhelmed by the person’s challenge that we unwittingly keep them at arm’s length, feeling it safe not to engage with them.

It’s therefore important that, as leaders, we develop self-awareness and self-protect, but also take a step back to truly look at what is happening in these interactions.

Based on my work as a speaker, coach and mentor in the mental health space – plus my lived experience of mental illness – I want to give you a unique view that will ultimately help you increase engagement and empower more people to be helped.  

Deep listening

Essentially in life, people just want to be truly heard and truly understood, but often they don’t feel that they are – especially now, with so much going on in the world.

It’s therefore important to note that if one of your team comes to you with a challenge, firstly, that’s a massive ‘well done’ to you for building the trust and rapport required to secure someone’s confidence. Unless you are a trained medical professional, however, remember that people aren’t coming to be fixed – they are coming to you to be heard.

So, if our responsibility as HR professionals and leaders isn’t to ‘fix’ them, what do you do? Our responsibility, as I see it, is simply to listen – truly listen. Put your laptop down, put your mobile device away, and give them your undivided attention for a human-to-human conversation.

Also, bear in mind that often, the problem they come to you with isn’t actually THE problem – it’s a bi-product, or symptom, of the challenge. For example, with mental health issues – especially stress and anxiety – the ‘bi-products’ could be:

  • Defensive behaviour
  • Aggression
  • High sensitivity or insecurity
  • Lethargy, fatigue or low energy
  • Lack of confidence, courage or conviction
  • Situation avoidance

This is why we need to truly listen, to engage and question and have those human-to-human conversations to really dig deep into the source of the issue.

Active signposting

In a recent article on vulnerability I explained why, as part of these conversations, you shouldn’t be afraid to show more of yourself, to forge a deeper relationship, conversation and engagement with that person. Only then can we meet our real responsibility – to use ‘active signposting’ to guide them to a solution.

In my experience, when people feel truly heard and truly understood, 90% of the time they then feel empowered to find their own way forward. We can boost that, however, by knowing what solutions exist to support that person, both internally and externally. Also, be prepared, because if people open up to you about mental health, then they will trust you enough to also share other areas of life – racism, abuse, grief, coming out – so it’s important to know how you can help in any given situation.

The term I use, ‘active signposting’ means knowing what solutions exist within your organisation, e.g. employee assistance programmes, counselling, GP services, therapies etc, or externally with organisations such as the NHS, Mind, Time To Change, Rethink and Mental Health UK – and being able to point people to them.

Empowering people

Switching your mindset from one of trying to ‘fix’ people to one of empowering people eases your burden and encourages you to have more conversations, as you will have more to give.

This one mindset switch is one of the most powerful tools that I use with clients as it has the biggest cultural impact. Also, in terms of self-care, it helps us stay fully charged, unburdened and ignited to help more people through life’s challenges, both personally and professionally.

Remember – we have all of the answers, we often just don’t ask ourselves the right questions. There is a way to show kindness and compassion without giving yourself away. Doing it the right way will mean you can empower more people more than you ever did before.

Interested in this topic? Read How to develop a culture of positive mental wellbeing at the workplace.

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