5 Alternate Ways to Ask Your Employees “Are You Okay?” 

As HR professionals, we’ve felt the intense impact & pressure COVID19 has had on our companies. We’ve had to re-structure and organize our operations, re-visit our strategies, put in place new training and regulations… whilst also dealing with living in a pandemic! Every news station is discussing the changing workforce, and it’s true the workforce has been disrupted in a manner we’ve never experienced before, but what about our employees? Can’t the same be said about our workers? The global pandemic has had a drastic impact on the mental health of individuals, with a shocking 1,000% increase of individuals calling mental help hotlines.

You know that feeling when you’re in a terrible headspace but you’re uncomfortable letting yourself cry or complain in your current environment…there’s been countless times where someone has attempted to comfort me and the fireworks have let loose. Whilst it’s comforting to know someone cares, it’s also uncomfortable to feel so overwhelmed. And, whilst your intentions are coming from a place of care, you may cause tension if you simply ask “Are You Okay?” because this sentence has connotations of implying there’s something wrong with the disheartened individual. Fortunately for us, there are other ways we can show our support.

1. Buy them a coffee.

It doesn’t have to be a coffee, but you know what I mean. We’re humans, and we have the tendency to overthink and work ourselves up over our emotions. The more we think about them the more intensely we feel them which is a vicious cycle. Sometimes, all it takes is a small act of compassion to pull you back to reality and center you…so, when someone buys a ‘coffee’ for you, you begin to focus on their act of compassion and slowly the negative thoughts and feelings you had to seem fainter. This is a great way of showing someone you care about them, and you acknowledge they need some support- WITHOUT being overbearing. If you’re working remotely, like most of the world, you can still do this! Heard of Uber Eats or DoorDash? Maybe even ‘Jimmy Brings’ if they need some serious cheering up…

2. How can I support you?

If you know (or sense) your colleague or employee is going through a rough time, you already know that. You know they aren’t okay, so what is asking them ‘are you okay’ going to do? It’s not beneficial and draws attention to their seemingly off demeanor. What you need to do is show your support. Give them a helping hand, and cut to the chase. We’re nosy beings.. we love to know all the nitty-gritty details of someone else’s life and drama, (hence the huge market for reality TV), but don’t get your curiosity confused with your intentions. Skip the chit chat, ask them how you can support them. Ask them what they need from you. By showing them you want to give them something, it takes away the tension of them having to approach you and ask for something (which is very hard to do).

3. Mention a concern, then approach.

This one is a bit tricky but works well if executed in the correct situation. I think the best way to explain it is with an example… Imagine this scenario;

Your work colleague comes to the office noticeably not themselves. They always say good morning and have a chat before diving into work- but not today. If they’re not themselves, they aren’t going to act the way they normally would- but SOMETIMES that’s exactly what they need to do! You aren’t strangers, you can still approach them… “ Hey, you seem a bit distant today, how are you going? What did you get up to over the weekend?”. YOU take initiative, just because someone’s seemingly unsettled it doesn’t mean they aren’t human beings with social instincts.

Reach out, if they wanted to talk about their feelings they would tell you but the reality is they don’t owe you any explanations, and you shouldn’t want one. If you care, the only thing you should be concerned about is their wellbeing and how you can make a difference.

4. You can vent to me if you want.

You shouldn’t want to pry, you shouldn’t aim to get the latest tea, BUT you should offer to listen. Everyone is wired differently, some people don’t want to talk about what they’re feeling and others are dying for someone to vent to, but don’t want to be a burden and unleash a heap of negative thoughts on someone else. It never hurts to offer your time and attention, usually we’re able to think objectively and see our situation from a different perspective when we speak out loud and air our thoughts. When taking this approach on board it’s important to remember the ball must always be in their court, don’t overstep, and don’t be forceful.

5. Open-ended questions.

The biggest concern with asking “are you okay?” is the minimal room for a response. “Yes, I’m okay” or “No, I’m not okay”. Either way, neither of these responses offer insight into the mind of your colleague or employee. Therefore, what’s the point of asking them? You’d need to ask them another question regardless of their answer… so skip the useless closed-ended question and start with open-ended questions. You provide them with an opportunity to elaborate and express themselves how they want to. You’ll receive more in-depth and insightful answers that’ll enable you to continue the conversation and hopefully discover what is disrupting them and how you can help.

These are a few alternate ways to check in with your colleagues and your employees. Now’s the time we need to step up and look out for one another, we’re all in the same boat so there are no excuses. You know what you need, thus you know what your peers need. We must step up and be proactive rather than reactive, the wellbeing of our employees shouldn’t be forgotten or overlooked in these times of distress. Check-in before you regret not checking in.

A list of help hotlines

  1. Mental Health America 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  2. Crisis Services Canada 1-833-456-4566 toll-free
  3. Lifeline Australia 13 11 14
  4. HopeLine UK 0800 068 4141

Cassandra Diamantis is the Marketing Specialist at My Recruitment Plus. Cassie writes content that aids HR and recruiters efficiently recruit, onboard, and lead. Her company aims to modernize recruitment and onboarding processes through enterprise-grade technology and round the clock client success support.

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