Workplace Relationships
Productivity through people
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Ask The Question and Change Lives

People don’t ask R U OK? Because they are afraid of 3 things…

  • They don’t know what to say,

  • They might make it worse

  • They think it’s not their business 

We need to get over this and accept that there is rarely one solution to mental health problems- but not asking the question won’t help any solution be considered. 

I know when I had my own struggles, I didn’t want to admit to others how bad it was. I was the strong one, the one who fixes problems, holds the home together both emotionally and financially! At work, I held the team together and shielded them from too much stress - by taking on way too much! I became the martyr and a victim of my inability to recognise I wasn’t making logical choices. I could have easily delegated more - the team would have stepped up! I could have said no more- someone else would have stepped in. I could have trusted my friends more- I would not have been judged weak, or a failure. 

Now I have cleaned my glasses, restored my ‘20/20’ vision, I can look back and see I created so much of the stress myself! I hadn’t learnt how to look after myself and I hadn’t learnt how to open up...

 And from my recollection - for the most part, no one asked me to!

No one asked RUOK?

My facebook page and the facade I wore ensured that they didn’t feel the need. 

And…If they had asked, no doubt I’d have said ‘fine’. 

Towards the end - I did start to open up a bit at work. And you could see that people were shocked and a bit uncomfortable. But they did hold space for me. They listened and said “wow”...when I admitted I was tired and had lost my passion for teaching - within the confines of a crowded curriculum and in a country that loved to tell teachers how they were doing it wrong, whilst simultaneously laughing they couldn’t teach a room of 8 year olds! 

But I digress...

So I when I attended an R U OK? event last week I was intrigued to listen to the stories of success. Where big companies were making some headway and trying to incorporate the language and the space for these vital conversations.

Woolworths decided to bump mental health from around eight on the list of ‘risks’ for the safety department to number one! This is inspiring I thought as I sat and listened.

Then It was explained that the CEO had done this, as within one week the company had been hit with 3 employee suicides. They could not ignore the issue in their 200,000 workforce. Immediately, the CEO sent letters to every employee and as a company they looked deeper into how they can help to improve things.

In short - they began to ask R U OK? They found team members from their stores and logistic operations and shared their real-life stories. Within a month of developing their new program, 20,000 employees had chosen to access the training, with 65% of those wanting to become ambassadors and do more!

Just by starting the conversation, by bringing things into the open it was making a difference.

I also heard stories of how R U OK? was changing the conversations at Melbourne Metro and Sydney’s Tracksafe companies.

They have been running events for 5 years now…going from 1 event in the first year, with approx 50 attendees (mainly office based), to between 40-50 events with a focus on front-line staff. They have even stepped things up to have a Rail R U OK? month. Why would this be needed? Well, rail workers are one of the most at risk categories:

Work-related mental disorders profile - Work Safe 2015

Work-related mental disorders profile - Work Safe 2015

In Sydney - they were affected by the suicide of an apprentice in 2015, and have implemented conversations around R U OK? into the monthly sessions as part of the training for this group.

So slowly…things are changing!

I heard a story of the event where a manager decided to share his own attempt at suicide and them others from the same group shared stories of battles with cancer and anxiety - which they had all suffered in silence with their colleagues.

Over the event - it became clear as example after example highlighted the need to have the conversations - often! Make it part of the norm. Then people will be brave and will share.

The main take away from the whole event was - KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Using the 4 steps that R U OK? advocate, keep things simple…you don’t need to fix things, you need to recognise they might need help, LISTEN to what they have to say (fully listen, be present and without judgement), encourage action and finally, check in with them again soon.


May is Mental Health month in some places - but if the examples above teach us anything, it is that this needs to be done everyday…it needs to become part of the fabric of how we talk and listen to each other. Being proactive in building our connections in the workplace is vital if we are to change the epidemic of loneliness and disconnection. I believe, these conversations that involve listening are the way to drive this change. Who will you check in on today?

Jo O’Donovan is the founder and CEO of Workplace Relationships.

She has developed training for workplaces in how to have conversations to increase connection and improve ‘productivity through people’.

You can connect with Jo here: