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Stepping into the breach on employee mental health – Rudolf

by: Beth Rudolf is director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)
  • 13/12/2021
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How are you? That’s a question we all get asked a lot.

Answers tend to be in the region of, ‘Not bad’, ‘Surviving’, ‘I’m fine’, ‘I’m good’, ‘Chugging along’, and every other stock response which doesn’t really tell anyone how you really are.

But that’s what we’re sort of programmed to do. To effectively treat the question as if the person asking it really isn’t that interested in the answer, and they are certainly not going to want to hear something which is more honest than any of the answers given above.

However, in a work environment, just how accepting of these answers should we be? Whether we’re the owner of the business, managing a team, or actually an employee, we have to move away from such answers, because they’re not really telling us anything, there is no sharing of the truth here, and ultimately they are likely to do more harm than good.

At the recent Conveyancing Association annual conference we had a specific session focused on client behaviour – which let’s face it, can be challenging for all of us within the property market, especially during a pandemic when there’s a stamp duty “holiday” on. But the session became far more about staff and how they have been impacted.  This was during a time when workloads were off the scale, whilst at the same time having to adapt to working from home and most of us didn’t have those normal office-based support structures to fall back on.

We heard from a number of firm owners – and I suspect it’s no different in the advisory space – about the challenges of running a business when staff are working remotely, when you might not be able to so easily see the potential mental health or stress red flags.

I defy anyone to say they have got through this period unscathed because it has been emotionally taxing at even the best of times. Even though ‘being busy’ can be good for firm income, we have to think about what is the potential human cost?

At the conference we heard from firms who were having to come up with new strategies in terms of employee engagement. To set aside time to speak to every single member of staff regularly in order to catch up with them. To put out the feelers to try and see if there were staff struggling, who they were, what they were going through and how they could be helped.

For some firms, this represents something of a sea change, but it was obvious that this is not something that is suddenly going to disappear when ‘normality’ returns, whatever ‘normality’ is. And you might also have to accept that you may not be the best person to perform this task.


People skills

Just because you run the firm, doesn’t mean it’s you who should be making these calls, (hopefully) sitting down with a member of staff over a coffee or if needs be, chatting on zoom.

Whilst a big part of being a good boss is being engaged, if you have someone else who can do this part of the job better, for instance a mental health first aider, then encourage and empower them to do this. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking they can do their full-time job as well as this on top. They can’t, and they shouldn’t be expected to.

Finally, don’t be frightened to ask, ‘How are you?’ because this tends to be where any conversation about mental health starts. Just be prepared to ask, ‘How are you really?’ when you get the stock answer; and try to make time to listen. Regular catch-ups with colleagues tends to be what most people want (and miss) the most about remote working, so start there and you’ll invariably do much more good than harm.


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