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Hiring Advice Engaging your workforce How to Check in With an Employee And Ask if They're Okay
How to Check in With an Employee And Ask if They're Okay

How to Check in With an Employee And Ask if They're Okay

Managing a team or a business means closely working with many other people. You learn their everyday habits and can often predict how they would behave in a particular situation. Being a leader puts you in a terrific position to notice when something’s off.

Perhaps an employee looks tired and stressed? Are they uncharacteristically turning up late several times a week? Do you notice a colleague avoiding meetings and social activities when they used to lead these gatherings happily?

As a leader, checking in with your employees and knowing when to ask if they’re okay is a subtle but significant way to show the company's support. If they want to talk about anything troubling them, you can help them find strategies to manage better. Here’s how to go about it.

Promote a mentally healthy workplace

According to the New Straits Times, employee burnout is a growing issue in Malaysian workplaces. Fortunately, Gen Z Malaysians are more aware of mental health and willing to seek help than previous generations.

Even luckier, an estimated 53% of managers feel comfortable checking in on the people who report to them, according to research for SEEK. Leading in a way that builds a mentally healthy environment makes these conversations easier and less intimidating, explains SEEK Resident Psychologist Sabina Read.

“It's about maximising protective factors in the workplace that promote positive mental health. More than anything, fostering a sense of agency and decision-making in your team is crucial,” she adds.

“And when you show a level of vulnerability, you’re inviting others to do the same. You're not saying that this behaviour is only appropriate or expected at certain levels of the organisation.”

You can also nourish your team's well-being with these initiatives.

Focus on observable changes

A further 36% of managers admitted to checking in on their reports when they noticed them struggling at work. Read’s advice for managing this conversation is simple: focus on observable changes in behaviour, mood, appearance, and thinking – not what you think those changes mean or what could be wrong.

“If someone's been typically punctual and now you’re noticing that they're often late, that's an observable change,” she says. “Letting them know you have seen a shift in their punctuality four out of five days for the last two weeks is based on a factual statement. It's not loaded and it’s not open to interpretation. It doesn't come with judgement – you’re not deducing that something significant has happened in their life."

“You’re simply checking in and asking if they’re okay based on changes to their recent behaviour.”

Create a safe space

A positive company culture is so crucial for better communication. People can feel nervous discussing their well-being with their manager, so you must be clear that you’re having an open conversation with zero judgement, Read explains.

“When you're in a position of authority, there's a lot at stake and there's a lot at risk, so people may curtail their experience if they think it will change the way their manager views them or values their work," she adds.

“As a manager, you need to be clear that they’re in a safe space and that it's a separate conversation unrelated to performance, productivity or outcomes.”

Emphasise the right to privacy

A key element of the safe space you’ve created is privacy. “As a manager, you need to express your employee’s right to privacy,” Read says.

“Explain that it’s a conversation between you and them and that you won’t be talking about it with anyone else, like other team members or the HR department, without their permission.”

Explore adjusting their workload

You might feel unsure about what to do when your employees confess their struggles. It may be why 35% of managers suspected someone was struggling at work but didn't ask if they were okay.

Here's the thing: it’s not your job to diagnose the problem or provide solutions. You should also avoid pressuring them into a response when you ask after them. “Don’t assume you know what they need. What you're trying to do is ask open-ended questions that facilitate action,” Read says.

One of the most important questions you can ask is about workload. “Explore with the person what they think they may need more or less of with regards to redistributing or modifying their workload,” Read says. “Try not to assume that you know what they need, as often people still want to stay connected to their work and they want to know that they're making a meaningful contribution.”

Checking in with your employees about their mental well-being can impact the workplace massively and positively. Fostering a safe space for these critical conversations and asking sensitive follow-up questions shows your team that you care and are available to offer support.

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