What Your Employees Might be Saying (Without Actually Saying It)–Are You Listening?

What Your Employees Might be Saying (Without Actually Saying It)–Are You Listening?

In the poignant yet lighthearted 1987 Academy Award-winning movie Moonstruck, an iconic scene emerged when on the morning after a spontaneous and unexpected night together, the character played by Nicholas Cage tells the character played by Oscar-winner Cher, that he is madly in love with her. Her response is to slap him—twice—and tell him to “snap out of it.”

Cage’s character’s deeply emotional reaction to meeting Cher’s character for the first time is intense and, some might say, unstable. He becomes instantly obsessed with her. Of course, as in many movie plots, Moonstruck ends happily, with everything working out nicely for the main characters.

But in non-movie life, our intense emotional and mental health challenges don’t necessarily work out as nicely.  And it’s especially troubling when someone is struggling with emotional and mental health challenges and they are dismissively told to,

Snap out of it.

A few months ago, a mid-level company reached out to Someone To Tell It To because the company’s leader wanted to make certain that their employees’ emotional and mental health are a priority.  With the pandemic being, well, the pandemic, and with so many people working from home, feeling disconnected, and struggling to create balance in their lives, the potential for significant inner turmoil was almost inevitable. That leader recognized it.

In a 2021 Forbes magazine article, “What You Need To Do When You Hit The Pandemic Wall,” author Jack Kelly wrote:

“We’re almost a year into the pandemic and it doesn’t look like the end is near. We’ve been subjected to fear, schools shutting down, businesses closing, told to stay indoors and unable to see our loved ones in person … Those who have jobs worry about keeping them and navigating remote work. People with young children are forced to juggle their jobs, along with caring for their kids and also serving as teachers.”

With 90% of their employees working remotely, this company’s relationships were stagnating. The leader could see it and feel it. The emotional and mental toll the pandemic was having on the work culture was real. Being proactive, before employees started banging their heads against a metaphorical wall, was necessary and essential.

We were proud of the leader for taking the initiative.

Based on our research and experiences working with many companies both large and small, we could tell that acute stress and burnout were a major threat to their workforce, as it has been in most workplaces for the past two years.

In a survey released in January by consultancy WTW (formerly Willis Towers Watson), 322 U.S. employers with 100 or more employees were asked about their expectations for 2022. The results showed:

  • 86% of employers said mental health, stress, and burnout were still a priority.
  • 49%, however, had not formally articulated a well-being strategy for their workforce, and
  • only 26% had adopted a well-being strategy.

Regina Ihrke, WTW’s senior director of health and benefits said, “The organizations that most effectively move the needle are those that develop a comprehensive strategy that supports all aspects of their employees’ well-being. It’s also important to articulate that strategy to employees, conduct manager training, and measure effectiveness.”

In the same study, there were two definitive steps suggested to address emotional well-being:

  1. Implement an organizational behavioral health strategy and action plan.
  2. Redesign employee assistance program benefits, including increasing limits on visits and expanding services.

If there is ever a month for a leader to start addressing mental and emotional well-being in the workplace, May—#MentalHealthAwarenessMonth—is the month to do it.

We’d like to offer a few transformational ways to help make mental health awareness a priority and to start creating a strategy and action plan going forward:

  1. Read our newest book Listening 2by2: A Paradigm Shift for Leaders (That’s When the Magic Happens!) and get a copy for your team members. We’ve heard from senior leaders to school teachers to single moms who’ve read the book that implementing the L.I.S.T.E.N acronym, which is at the heart of the book, has produced immediate benefits in each of their relationships—both at work and at home. In his foreward to the book, servant leadership expert, Ken Blanchard wrote: “I’ve often said that the best minute I spend is the one I invest in people. When you invest your time listening to people who live and work around you, you’ll experience healthier, happier, more satisfying relationships. Listen to colleagues and team members and create opportunities for collaboration and camaraderie. Listen to family members and unlock lines of communication that may have been shut down. Open your ears and your heart to new people you meet and find value in the smallest interactions.” Last week, we interacted with a senior manager at another company who purchased the book, read it in one sitting over a weekend and implemented the L.I.S.T.E.N. strategy in a recent meeting. He saw transformation in his relationships within his team immediately.
  2. Give your team members a paid mental health day each month. Does it cost you money? Yes. Is it a sacrifice of time and resources? Yes. Does it save you money in the long-run? Yes! Does it keep your employees healthy, motivated, and well? YES! Abso-freakin-lutely! We credit the mid-level company that reached out to us for this strategy.
  3. Connect with our training and listening teams at Someone To Tell It To. We can listen and train you to ‘bake’ listening into your company culture. This past year, our training and listening team has been meeting on site with another mid-level company providing direct service listening to employees. That company is making mental health a priority. The late Robin Williams said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always.” Members of your teams are fighting battles you know nothing about; we can almost guarantee it. The only way you will know about those battles is by genuinely listening. And if you don’t think you are a good listener or you don’t have the time or you want to maintain certain boundaries with your team members, then have someone else listen for you. If you aren’t making listening a priority, someone else will listen. But it might mean that that person listening is at another workplace. The last thing you want to have happen is for one of your key team members to leave because listening hasn’t been a priority.

Emotional and mental health challenges may not be something we can see with our eyes, but with kindness, empathy, compassion, and intentional and careful listening we can grow in understanding.

We can’t expect people to “snap out of it.” It’s just not that simple or easy.


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