It's Okay to Not Be Okay – Check in on Your Coworkers

Fortune ran an article last fall that was recently referenced as a diversity topic in a company meeting I was in. Fortune referenced a report that found that 84% of employees rarely mean it when they say they are “fine” or “good” in response to their manager asking them how they are doing.

Well, I certainly have done that. Stood in front of the bathroom mirror crying and trying to splash enough cold water on my face to cover it up, then quickly drying my face off, walking to a Zoom and smiling at everyone. Immediately answering “How are you?” with “fine” and off we go to the topic of the meeting.

The survey Fortune quoted was from SilverCloud (SilverCloud Health’s 2021 Employee Mental Health and Wellbeing Checkup) that found in a survey of 2,000 people “about two-thirds of employees have clinically measurable mental health symptoms of anxiety or depression”. They quoted 55% percent experiencing mild to moderate distress, and 10% with severe symptoms.  

I’ve seen other studies out there with similar numbers, I tend to read those articles when they come through my feeds because I identify with them. I struggled with this prior to the pandemic, and certainly through it. At times it’s hard to know what I am dealing with – I find myself googling “what does an anxiety attack look like?”, “how to deal with stress” and similar questions. Honestly, I often don’t know how to separate all those factors depending on the day and what is going on. I do know however, that I am not okay. 

After I read the Fortune article, I experimented a bit. I started to say “I’m hanging in there” or, when I was with more trusted co-workers, “I’ve been better”. I also started paying attention to how others answered the question. It surprised me what I heard – sometimes humor, sometimes sarcasm, sometimes honesty. It made me realize I hadn’t been listening, and that I could do more to help my co-workers. At minimum by pausing enough to show empathy and respond with, “Yeah, I have those days too”.

It’s hard on Zoom sometimes to create that space where we can pause and check in with others. I have found myself more efficient in the workplace over the last couple of years – no cooler talk, less “wasted” time. You go from one topic to the other with the click of a link. But for me, one of the things that got harder in relationships, is how to pause and be a friend. To talk about what is going on in our life that isn’t related to the agenda. I am looking forward to bringing that back into our working relationships as we move back toward meeting together again in person.   

Until then, April is Stress Awareness Month followed by Mental Awareness month in May –both encouraging us all to better understand the stress in our lives and what that means for us. I encourage you to do so, and if needed, contact a healthcare professional.