Beyond “How are you?” – Fostering inclusive wellbeing practices to start conversations

How are you? 

I’m guessing you will respond with either good, not bad, alright, fine, busy or okay.

But how are you, really?

I’ve always felt a little awkward about the way we use ‘How are you?’ to greet each other. I always automatically reply, ‘I’m good’, even if I’m not so good that day. It might be because of my background in retail and hospitality – always smile at the customer, even when you are having a bad day.

Recently, it seems like ‘Are you okay?’ has also become an automatic nicety rather than a question leading to meaningful conversation. Very rarely will anyone respond they’re not okay. And that’s because talking about our feelings can be confronting and uncomfortable, particularly in the workplace.

The intention of R U OK? Day on September 9 is to encourage us to start life-changing conversations. It’s not just about throwing the question out there. It’s about encouraging the dialogue to acknowledge when we’re not feeling 100 percent. It’s about creating space to allow us to not be okay. It’s about normalising the topic of mental health and removing the negative stigma attached.

With the recent disruptions of COVID-19, and many of us feeling the strain of working from home, here are some suggestions for how workplaces can foster inclusive mental wellbeing practices on, and beyond, R U OK? Day.

Understand each person is different in the way they express themselves and create a safe space for them to do so.

  • Rather than asking if someone is okay, try sending them a personal note: ‘Checking in to see how you’re doing. I’m available to listen if there’s anything you want to chat about’. This way they are in control of when and how they’d like to share.
  • Kick off the week with a team session checking in on everyone’s state in creative ways like representing your mood through emojis, weather descriptions, colours, ratings, etc. Welcome everyone to share more about their state but keep it optional.
  • Make sure everyone knows there will be no negative repercussions on how others perceive their performance because of mental health discussions. 
  • Listen to understand, not to provide solutions or opinions. 

Provide support which recognises each person copes in different ways and validates their needs, whether it be space, connection, focus or play.

  • Don’t probe when someone requests time off work, unless they would like to share further, so no one feels like they need to justify why they need to take a break.
  • Give everyone an extra mental health day off and allow people to choose when they want to take this. Everyone will appreciate it, even if they’re feeling okay.
  • Provide multiple ways to participate socially e.g., drinks events being inclusive of non-alcoholic beverages, icebreaker activities in team meetings, games sessions, walk and talks, sharing quotes and photos of furry friends. 
  • Respect each other’s preferred working rhythm e.g., meeting-free mornings.

Role model healthy boundaries and wellbeing practices. 

  • Share when you are taking a break for a walk, coffee/tea, or snack (but not as an obligation for time tracking). When leaders in particular do this, it helps the rest of the team to feel okay taking breaks when they need to.
  • Encourage the team to make time for a real lunch away from the desk.
  • Spark reflections on how work can better support everyone to feel good about being at work, the work they do and balancing life outside of work.

As someone who has struggled with mental health, CfID practicing the above suggestions has helped me manage my mental wellbeing alongside my own strategies. 

Which of these suggestions will you bring into your workplace? Let us know how you go by tagging @CentreForInclusiveDesign in your post on LinkedIn. We’d love to learn from your stories and strategies too.

If you need help right now, it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anywhere in Australia. In an emergency, call 000.

Lifeline 24-hour crisis line – Call 131 114

Beyond Blue Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service – Call 1800 512 348

Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) Call 131 450
TIS National is for people who do not speak English and for agencies and businesses that need to communicate with their non-English speaking clients.

This blogpost was written by Michelle, one of our inclusive user experience and service designers.

Michelle is an Australian-born Chinese woman who is learning to manage her mental and physical wellbeing. She grew up as the designated translator for her family with Centrelink. Don’t be fooled by her Aussie accent, English was not her first language, so she sometimes needs an extra moment to express herself. Outside of work, Michelle loves being by the ocean, practicing pilates and spending Sundays with a book in the sun.

To speak to Michelle, or another member of our team at CfID about creating inclusive workplace mental health practices contact