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Ask quality questions: Eight ways to dig deeper with your staff this R U OK? Day


Today is R U OK? day, a day devoted to helping inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with the people around them. Social connectivity is perhaps more important than ever as the pandemic has left many people feeling stressed, disconnected, uncertain and isolated. Even before COVID, one in two Australians reported being lonely for at least 1 day each week. Last month, Lifeline reported it’s highest number of calls in the organisation’s history, with extended lockdowns across the country cited as a key reason for the surge

While there are many resources to help you ask R U OK? every day, it is not always easy to have a conversation with your colleagues, or expect your employees to open up with you when they’re not okay.

To help, we have listed some science-backed strategies that can enhance conversations, boost connectivity and help people feel more okay.

1. Stop and reflect on your own wellbeing

As the saying goes, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. Bringing your awareness to what you are experiencing and how you are feeling is important. Research suggests those who are self aware often experience better mental health outcomes, better decision making, enhanced self-confidence and improved job-related wellbeing

Action: Schedule time to reflect on your own wellbeing. Am I okay? Am I looking after my own mental and physical health? Am I balancing work, family, sleep and life?

2. Be willing to be vulnerable first

Research shows sharing personal information about yourself leads to better interpersonal interactions and a sense of belonging. Vulnerability not only helps you get things off your chest, it can also inspire others to share their own uncomfortable thoughts and experiencesResearch also has found that stressful and painful experiences are a powerful ingredient in bringing people together and deepening interpersonal bonds.   

Action: Share your own struggles or feelings of vulnerability with your employees. Some tips on how to do this with respect and authenticity can be found here.

3. Build quality connections

Social network analysis research has shown that our social networks are shrinking during lockdown. With our informal ways of meeting gone, many of us are feeling the lack of non-work conversations and are feeling a lack of quality connections leading to feelings of loneliness. Loneliness is not related to the quantity of social contact or connections, rather the quality of connections. 

People can feel lonely for a range of reasons including: intimate or emotional loneliness (longing for a close confidant or intimate partner), relational or social loneliness (yearning for quality friendship and social companionship and support) and collective loneliness (a want for a network or communicate of people to share their sense of purpose or interests). 

Action: Understand the level of connection or support that each of your team might be needing and engage in quality non-work conversation. Make a point of remembering any themes or interests others have shared with you and follow up to see how they are going.

4. Ask quality questions, particularly if connecting online

To foster high quality connections particularly in virtual meetings, we need to ask better questions that elicit deeper and more genuine responses. Asking “how are you” or “are you okay?” can be confronting and warrant closed (yes/no) responses.

Action: Plan to ask high quality, open-ended questions such as “what has been an unexpected upside or downside during COVID for you?” or “what’s been some things you have been struggling with this week?” to make you and your colleagues feel better connected.  

Atlassian also has a Work Life Impact framework that helps people have more empathetic and structured conversations through prompting quality questions about each team member’s unique situation.

5. Use social media to actively connect with others

While social media is generally thought to reduce our mental health and wellbeing, active engagement in social media through direct exchanges such as posting updates, sending messages to others and commenting on posts can increase feelings of connectedness and wellbeing

Action: Boost people’s sense of connectedness and belonging (and your own) by interacting on social media in a positive manner — like your colleagues post, write positive comments, or send messages in response to things they are sharing.

6. Offer to help others or say thank you

Small acts of kindness by helping or volunteering promotes connectedness and happiness. Many studies have also found expressing gratitude benefits you and others. It can improve your happiness, reduce anxiety and depression, and even positively impact your sleep and immune response (see the full rundown of benefits here).

Action: On “R U OK?” day you could offer to help others with tasks, encourage opportunities for volunteering, or you can simply recognise your employees by saying thank you.

7. Engage in activities in synchrony with others.

When being with others is not possible, research suggests performing activities in synchrony — in parallel with others — can boost social connection and lead to stronger feelings of affiliation. Prior to the pandemic, there were lots of opportunities for synchronous activities as people worked next to each other, collaborated on whiteboards together etc.

Action: Engage in synchronous team activities such as eating lunch together, working through a document, listening to music, or developing new skills, such as a cooking class.

8. Pursue joint goals with others

Pursuing goals in general gives people a sense of meaning and a sense of progress. Performing joint goals can foster social connections and opportunities for open conversations between people while also enhancing the likelihood of people attaining goals through shared accountability and joint experiences. 

Action: Have your team engage in small goals during the day or set goals for the upcoming weeks that they can hold each other accountable for. 

Next steps

You are now better equipped to take some kind of action today to help build connections in your networks and start a conversation where you can ask R U OK?

Click here for more information and resources. 

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