Why and How You Should Create an R U OK? Work Culture

Ruok Work Culture

“Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

John Watson

Last week I was astonished by the sheer numbers of people who attended our R U OK? stand at the Australian Human Resources Institute Conference in Melbourne. We were the busiest stand by far.

HR Managers from the corporate, government, and not for profit sector all told us that mental wellbeing had become a major priority for their organisation.

There were many and varied reasons given for this, but probably the most frequent one mentioned was the change fatigue now consuming many workplaces.

It was quite humbling to think that just 6 years before I had joined R U OK? founder Gavin Larkin in Canberra, to launch the first R U OK? with the then Minister for Health and Aging Nicola Roxon. In that first year we had no budget or employees, but a driving passion to champion Gavin’s vision that “A conversation could change a life.”

When Gavin (who tragically passed away from cancer in 2011) created R U OK? he always intended that the ultimate aim was to create supportive communities year round.

Whilst it was incredibly gratifying to realize how far we have come during last week’s conference, as a Director of R U OK?, I couldn’t help but think how much more we had to do to help our clients to create an R U OK? culture 365 days of the year.

In my presentations and workshops I explain that when I was the Joint Managing Director of a business in 2000 I went through a 5 year episode of depression that my psychiatrist described as the worst he had ever treated. What used to surprise me (but no longer does) is that after I share this story, people come up to and tell me about the struggles going on in their lives.

I’ve learnt that often behind the cheery façade of many people are daily battles.

Why is this insight essential to leaders?

In volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) times employees are under continual strain to do “more with less”. In addition to their work challenges, often they are coping with many other things in their private life. Their minds are distracted with a million different things.

Why an R U OK? culture is essential?

RUOK work culture 2

How do we as leaders ensure that our employees sustain the will and skill to excel? How do we best help when a Gallup engagement poll covering 142 countries tells us that only 13% are actively striving?

Evidence of the scale of this disengagement comes from Medibank  research that shows that stress disorders and depression now account for 34% of lost productivity through absenteeism and presenteeism, and yet 86% of those affected would rather suffer in silence than discuss it with their work colleagues. Many of your team are fighting hard battles but you may not know about it.

A startling fact about employee engagement

Since the 1970’s Gallup have been researching and reporting on employee engagement. They can now accurately predict whether an employee is engaged by asking them just 12 questions – known as their Q12™. Of those 12 questions the one question which is most correlated with engagement is this:

“My supervisor or someone at work seems to care about me as a person.”

The greatest positive predictor of engagement is a manager or colleague who cares!!

So what is the ONE question that every leader and colleague should regularly ask each other is?

“Are you OK?”

Sometimes it is just reassuring glance or pat on the back that shows this. Sometimes it a quick chat and sometimes it is a rich R U OK? conversation:

  • Break the ice – then ask R U OK?
  • Listen without judgement
  • Encourage action
  • Follow-up

It may lead to:

“Is there anything I can do to help?” or

“Have you considered making an appointment with your GP or calling EAP?” or

“What about we meet for a walk at lunchtime to discuss some options that could help?”

Related: Further information about how to ask R U OK?

Caring and compassionate leadership is good for people and good for business.

How do we progress from R U OK? Day to R U OK? 365?

I am gratified that many leaders I meet from every sector now acknowledges that employee mental resilience is essential. They also agree that prevention is better than cure. These are the critical success factors in creating an R U OK? culture:

  1. The senior leadership team acknowledges that a caring and supportive culture is critical to long team sustainability and success – and regularly communicates this.
  2. They link the need for creating an R U OK? culture to the vision and values of their organisation.
  3. Creating an R U OK? culture is seen as integral to leadership development and is monitored in engagement surveys – and positive results rewarded.
  4. A peer support program that accredits and supports R U OK? Champions is created
  5. Programs (public and anonymous) that are designed to keep people mentally resilient
  6. Organisations create anonymous programs and resources to help struggling employees get the right help and take action to recover fast.
  7. Success stories are gathered and skilfully shared – a continuous ethos prevails.

The R U OK? team is developing a beta version of the R U OK? Champion program for 2016 – stay tuned.

Celebrate R U OK? Day 2015 on September 10

The journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step. This year our campaign is called “Thanks for asking” where we encourage people to write a thank you note to someone who has helped them through a tough time. All information and resources can be accessed at www.ruok.org.au

My thank you video to my parents for helping me through a tough time.

Graeme Cowan is a speaker and an author who shows leaders how to build their resilience, mood, and performance. Master your mood and you master your life. He also helped Gavin Larkin and a small team to start R U OK? – www.ruok.org.au  To inquire about Graeme speaking at your conference or in your workplace please email support@graemecowan.com.au or call Sonja Firth on 02 8005 0344

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