Want to encourage conversations about mental health at work?

Our seven-step ALRIGHT framework helps managers start up and structure better conversations about mental health in the workplace.

ALRIGHT is based on ALGEE from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). We’ve refocused and refined MHFA’s original work to make it more suitable for corporate settings. ALRIGHT also shifts the focus away from reacting to someone in a mental health crisis towards proactively helping anyone struggling emotionally at work.

As ever, at Delphis, we are talking about mental health in a broad sense here. It’s not mental health as mental ill health. It’s about emotional health and wellbeing whether someone has a diagnosis or condition or not.

The seven steps of ALRIGHT will guide managers through the helping process. ALRIGHT is an acronym for the steps you need to take and also an easy way to remember how to kick start a conversation.

Is everything ALRIGHT?

Simple enough to remember we hope.

Now let’s look at what we will cover in this article as we unpack the seven steps of ALRIGHT and show you how to put them into practice.

Why do we even need a framework anyway?

You may be thinking why do we even need a framework to talk about mental health. Surely we shouldn’t be reducing something as complex and personal as mental health to a soulless seven-stage checklist?

That is not our intention. We don’t want to make a conversation about mental health a box-ticking exercise. The ALRIGHT framework is simply a tool to guide your interactions as a human being. It is not meant to replace them. ALRIGHT keeps you on track and serves as a mnemonic, or way of remembering, what you should and shouldn’t do when talking to a colleague.

What we definitely don’t want you to do is to discard any notion of structure and have an open-ended chat about someone’s mental health. That’s not a good idea.

Why? Well, you are a manager, not a counsellor or therapist. You are not trained to listen to someone’s emotional issues and provide advice. Leave that to a trained professional. You do have a responsibility for the people in your team, but that responsibility should be bounded by your duty of care as a manager. You should not overstep the boundaries of your role.

The ALRIGHT framework keeps you within the boundaries of your role and allows you to signpost a person to suitable professionals who can provide any necessary further support.

Having a conversation about mental health may seem scary

So this all might seem a little scary. Mental health can be a taboo subject. But the good news is managers don’t need to be experts to speak to a team member about their mental health. They just need to be well placed to start the conversation.

Most managers care about their people. For many managers and employees their colleagues are their work family. So if they notice a change in their behaviour or mood they would naturally want to try and help them. Despite this, and a general increase in awareness of mental health issues, Bela Gor interviewed in HR Magazine firmly believes managers are still afraid to have conversations about mental health.

Managers express concern that they might do or say the wrong thing. They often believe someone else is better suited to deal with these kind of issues.

But managers don’t need to ‘deal’ with the issue. They just need to start up a conversation and then signpost that person to appropriate support if required.

We understand it’s hard to know the right things to say and the right approach to take. But we firmly believe it is always better for a manager to act in a positive, proactive manner.

Acting early rather than too late is the best approach.

Mental health is a continuum

We’ve written about mental health as a continuum before. It’s an important way of understanding that we all have mental health and we can all find ourselves at distinct points on the continuum at different times in our lives.

Here’s that continuum model again. We’ve highlighted the surviving point in the middle as a good proactive point for a manager to step in and use the ALRIGHT framework. If a colleague is spending too much time ‘surviving’ rather than ‘thriving’ it’s a sign everything is not all right.

Symptoms of the mental health continuum model

Mental health is a continuum we all move along regardless of condition or diagnosis

The signs and symptoms underneath provides some clues for managers to look out for. If you notice a change in someone’s behaviour or attitude that persists then it’s important to step in and check if everything’s ALRIGHT.

We also want a manager to start a conversation with someone who is ‘struggling’ or ‘in crisis’, but at that point on the continuum that is often a reactive rather than proactive conversation. Catch people early and we can signpost them to support before they get to the ‘struggling’ and ‘in crisis’ stages.

Managers – it’s ALRIGHT to talk

It’s difficult to know what to do when you notice a colleague is having a hard time. You’ve noticed a change in their behaviour. They don’t seem like themselves and you think they might need some help. It may even affect their work. But what do you do?

Often, we fear doing, or saying, the wrong thing. Sometimes we worry we will make a situation worse or cause upset. We may even think it is not our place as managers to intervene. We may assume that a colleague is ‘having a bad day’. Perhaps we also feel frustration and wonder, ‘why are they letting it affect their work?

Imagine how an employee feels. They fear all the same things, and more.

Most managers will want to support a team member who they have noticed is struggling, not only to get them back on track with work, but because they care about their wellbeing. Showing understanding and support will help.

If you suspect someone is having mental health difficulties, it is important to take action. This shows you care and is much more likely to have positive consequences than if you ignore the issue.

Follow our step-by-step guide to having a conversation about mental health using the ALRIGHT technique and you can be confident you have done the right thing.

Here are the seven steps of ALRIGHT you should follow.

Use the ALRIGHT framework to have better conversations about mental health

Follow the ALRIGHT framework to structure better conversations about mental health

Step 1 – Approach 

Make the first move. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Stigma may prevent them from opening up to you. They may worry about discrimination or negative repercussions at work, so it’s important you approach them and start the conversation.

Be warm and friendly. Ensure you approach them in a location away from others where it’s private and you will have time to talk.

You want to think about setting up an environment that will encourage them to speak.

You may start the conversation by asking them how they are, or if everything is ALRIGHT. Don’t accept ‘I’m fine’ as an answer. If you are concerned about their health and wellbeing, support your concern with specific examples of behaviours you have observed.

Do not make the approach from a performance management perspective. Even if you have concerns about their performance, approach from a health and wellbeing perspective first. One leads to the other, but if you approach this from the wrong direction you will end up with a very different result.

Step 2 – Listen (non-judgementally)

Listening should be simple, but it is not always easy.

Being a good listener shows understanding and respect. Most people underestimate the power of listening. It is the most important of the seven stages of ALRIGHT.

If you’re interested in becoming a better listener, we have some tips below. For even more, check out Julian Treasure’s book How to be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening

Tips for listening:

  • Maintain a comfortable level of eye contact.
  • Avoid thinking about what you are going to say and really focus on their words and the way in which they are speaking them.
  • Nod, smile, and react appropriately to show concern and understanding.
  • Keep your reactions calm and neutral. Consider your body language as well as your speech.
  • Make sure your environment is conducive to listening. Turn off notifications and other distractions. Ensure you have allocated time and space to listen.
  • Clarify and summarise if necessary, but don’t interrupt with your own ideas.
  • Use the power of silence. This allows a person to collect their thoughts and continue. It encourages them to step in and fill the gap in the conversation. If this feels uncomfortable, taking sips from a glass of water will halt your temptation to speak and encourage the other person to talk.
  • Don’t say you ‘know how they feel’ as they may feel you are minimising their problem.
  • Don’t judge, preach or lecture. This is not about you and how you feel.

Step 3 – Reassure

Reassure them that you care about their wellbeing and that you understand their problem is real.

Don’t diagnose, or attempt to analyse the cause of their difficulties. Avoid offering specific advice. Leave all this to a professional.

You can give them hope. Reassure them that you understand mental health issues are real and treatable and that people can improve with the right support.

Reassure them that, as their manager, you will do what you can to support them at work. Do not go into specifics. You will need to seek advice from Human Resources or other professionals in your organisation about what the organisation can do to help.

Don’t forget to reassure yourself too. It’s not easy to start a conversation about mental health. By doing so you’ve demonstrated you care and are doing what you can to help.

Step 4 – Immediate action

Decide if you need to take any immediate actions to help them there and then. This could be a reduction in workload, the rest of the day off, offering support with their work. Something that you as a manager can do to show that you want to help.

Ask them what might help them right now.

Step 5 – Guide towards professional support

The people best placed to help are those who are trained to help. Remember you are not there to solve their problem but to guide them to expert help:

  • Make sure they know about any Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or occupational health support your organisation offers. Be specific when you guide them. Make sure you have the necessary details to hand so you can provide clear guidance. Vague directions result in people getting lost.
  • Have they seen their doctor? A General Practitioner (GP) is a gateway to other mental health professionals such as counsellors, psychotherapists and clinical psychologists who will be able to provide specialist support.

Guide to professional support

Step 6 – Help them to help themselves

Hopefully, you know your team member well and know what they enjoy and how they like to relax. When having a conversation about mental health it is OK to remind them of these things or suggest other general ways in which people can improve their mental health such as:

  • Exercise and activities they enjoy
  • Relaxing hobbies and pastimes
  • Spending time with supportive family and friends
  • Travel, volunteering or learning something new
  • Planning and prioritising a work-life balance

Step 7 – Time a follow-up meeting

Now you have shown you care, don’t leave it there. Arrange another meeting to check in with them and see how they are getting on. This will give them the time to get the support they need and it will also allow you time to speak to Human Resources (HR) about any reasonable adjustments you might need to make for them at work.

Recap of the seven steps of ALRIGHT

To recap, when having a conversation about mental health remember ALRIGHT:

  1. Approach 
  2. Listen
  3. Reassure
  4. Immediate
  5. Guide 
  6. Help
  7. Time

If you follow these 7 steps to having a conversation about mental health you can be sure that you have done what you can to make a positive difference and encourage mental wellness in your team. Not everybody will talk to you and you will not spot the signs of someone slipping down the continuum in everyone. But you are doing your best to make a difference and that’s what counts.

A video example of ALRIGHT in action

Having a conversation about mental health at work can be tricky, but it can be done, even if you are not in the office. Look at our example in the video below and see if you can spot the 7 steps of ALRIGHT in action:

 

Learn more

To learn how to support the mental health and wellbeing of your employees we offer a range of live webinars and virtual and on-site workshops.

We also have a self-paced online course for managers that provides more detail about what managers can do at work to help. It’s CPD certified and you get a certificate on completion.

Drop me a line if you are interested and I can send you a coupon for 50% off.