It’s OK to not be OK
Jul 23, 2020

Real talk? Keeping work and home completely separate isn’t possible — especially when we’re going through challenging times.

“Having a hard time leaving your feelings at the door when you begin working or getting caught up with things happening at home is completely normal,” said Tara Lemke-Ebenhoch, an external consultant with 3M’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). “These are common problems, and we want employees to know they’re allowed and encouraged to be open about what they are going through.” If a tough situation is weighing on you and affecting your ability to work effectively, it might be time to share how you’re feeling with your colleagues or supervisor, and seek their support.

So, how can you be open and ask for support at work if you need it? And if you’re a supervisor, how can you encourage an open dialogue on mental health and personal well-being? Here, 3Mers share tips to get and give support.

Identify what you need

Before taking action, it’s important to give yourself the space and permission to acknowledge your feelings and identify what kind of support you need from your supervisor or team. Are you seeking something specific, a partner for brainstorming solutions or simply someone to listen? Sometimes, communicating your needs is as simple as responding truthfully when someone asks you how you’re doing. Tara suggests responses like: “Truthfully? I’m not always doing so well. I sometimes feel tired (upset, stressed, annoyed, etc.) at work because of everything I have going on.” Or, “Sometimes I feel like I need someone to talk to or just more time for myself. Thank you for asking and caring about me.”

Set up a conversation for success

No matter what your situation is, talking about difficult feelings at work and asking for help can be just that — difficult. Luckily, there are steps you can take to make sure conversations with your supervisor or co-workers are results-oriented and leave you feeling supported.

If 3Mers are having a hard time deciding how to approach their coworkers or supervisor, they are encouraged to utilize the EAP. “Employees can frame up what they want to say with EAP staff before bringing it to a supervisor,” said Tara. “We want 3Mers to be able to say truthfully and authentically what’s going on. Vulnerability is OK.” If you don’t have access to a similar program from your employer, you can practice verbiage beforehand by preparing talking points and running through them on your own, with a mental health professional or with someone else you can confide in. Taking preemptive steps will help keep the conversation results-oriented and still allow you to feel seen and heard by your supervisor.

Once you have an idea of how you want to communicate your needs with a team member or supervisor, it’s important to find a good time and place to talk so the conversation can be as effective as possible. Find a comfortable spot that’s free of distractions where you won’t be interrupted. Scheduling a one-on-one meeting in advance ensures that you’ll have the time you need to express yourself and get feedback. Block a few minutes ahead of your meeting to prepare clear asks and review talking points that will help your supervisor or colleagues understand what they can do to help you feel supported and do your best work.

Putting it into practice: Jaymie and Yvonne

At 3M, employees can expect to feel supported, no matter what they’re going through. When Jaymie Wagner, an IT service delivery lead at 3M, came out as transgender to her supervisor Yvonne Houle-Gillard and the rest of her team, Jaymie received complete support. “Yvonne gave me space to talk to everyone I needed to make sure we had the trust and relationship to get the job done moving forward,” said Jaymie. “Everyone was extremely supportive.”

Yvonne, an IT ecosystems delivery leader, immediately went out of her way to create a psychologically safe space for Jaymie and the rest of her team. “The first thing I asked Jaymie was, ‘What can I do?’ I asked how I could help her through her transition, and how she wanted me to communicate to others,” said Yvonne. “She was very generous in sharing resources that could help answer my questions and give her the support she needed.”

The combination of Jaymie’s ability to communicate effectively and Yvonne’s willingness to go the extra mile helped Jaymie feel safe and supported by her entire team.

Keep the conversation going

The best way to ensure your team continues to feel supported at work is to continue having conversations. “Keep talking even after the meeting so you can understand where you need to make changes,” advised Yvonne. She said she encourages her team to talk freely about how they’re doing. “These conversations are about paying attention to employees and giving them space to say how they feel. We’re all human, even when we’re at work.”

Be a safe space creator

Whether you’re in a leadership role looking to create safe spaces for your team, or a team member who wants to give your colleagues extra support, simple things can go a long way. Earnestly asking people how they’re doing and trying to listen and respond with empathy, can improve workplace relationships and make everyone feel welcome to be themselves.

Rather than offering up advice, Tara suggests using language that makes your colleague feel heard: “It looks like you might be going through a tough time right now. If you want, I am here to listen and offer ideas and support. I may not have answers, but I am a good listener and will keep our conversation private.” Words like these help encourage an open dialogue that everyone can feel welcome to participate in.

For supervisors, building an environment of trust and mutual support on your team can be strengthened through regular collaboration and open dialogue. Yvonne makes a point to focus on collaboration between team members to solve problems together. “Asking each other, ‘What’s not working? Where are we stuck? What are our blockers?’ gives us a good opportunity to work through issues as a team,” she said. Following up on these questions intentionally and mindfully ensures that solutions don’t fall through the cracks.

3M employees are encouraged to be open and honest, so everyone has the opportunity to do their best. Want to become a part of our team? Learn more at 3M.com/careers. 

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