At OpenBlend, we’re big believers in the power of conversation so it’s no surprise that we’re excited to mark Time to Talk Day this week (2nd February).
Organised by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, it’s a fantastic initiative that aims to shine a light on the importance of talking about mental health - and with thousands of communities and companies taking part across the country, it’s tipped to be the UK’s biggest mental health conversation.
It’s good to talk. So let’s get talking.
Conversations: the cornerstone of employee experience
One of the biggest strides we’ve seen in recent years is the emergence of mental health conversations at work. Today, the best managers and employers are those who enable and encourage their employees to talk about their mental health (or any other issue that matters to them) in a psychologically safe and supportive environment. Rather than having to adopt a happy facade at the office door, more and more employees are now able to show their true selves at work because they’re having the regular and effective conversations that make this possible.
At the heart of this, lies the human element - and as humans, we all share an inherent need to connect with other people; to feel a sense of belonging; to trust; and to be trusted. And guess what? Conversation is the driver behind each of these factors, too. But what does a great manager-employee conversation actually look like, and how can HR pave the way?
The definition of great conversations:
Talking to your manager once a year, however great the conversation, isn’t going to cut it. We live in a fast-paced world where things change quickly, whether it be family commitments, financial circumstances, health status (mental or physical), or something else. These factors are constantly evolving, and none more so than in the current environment. To keep up, managers and employees need to be having regular conversations in order to support the ongoing awareness and understanding that’s required.
It’s a point summed up well by this line from the Time to Talk website: We know the more conversations we have, the better life (and work) is for everyone.
Ensuring that one-to-ones cover a breadth of content is essential, yet at the same time, conversations must also focus on the things that matter most to the individual employee.
To support this, one-to-ones should be collaborative, two-way discussions - or even better, employee-led. It is, after all, the employee who has the best understanding of themselves and any issue(s) they’re facing. The key is to therefore spend more time focusing and resolving these discussion points because this is how we can best enable the employee to reach their full potential at work.
So remember, breadth is important but so is depth - and striking the right balance makes for the best kind of conversation.
Effective conversations are those that reaffirm the manager-employee relationship and enable the employee to thrive at work. These conversations are underpinned by trust and clarity, they’re goal orientated, and both parties are able to talk openly about a broad range of topics.
Feedback and coaching are also typical traits of an effective conversation - yet crucially, feedback is always delivered in a constructive manner so that it feeds learning and development rather than self-doubt and mistrust.
More than anything, effective conversations are those that support people, build partnerships, and enable performance.
So how can HR help?
HR’s role is one of advisor and facilitator, but there are three key factors that the People team must focus on in order to pave the way for great conversations:
This is a big one. Change can be unnerving and creating a culture of continuous, two-way conversations may seem like a huge leap for managers and employees alike. To support the right mindset, HR must embark on a programme of education that promotes the benefits of conversation in people terms (better wellbeing, continued learning, and career development), but also as the painkiller to several business challenges (think productivity, retention, motivation, engagement, and performance).
It is through these communications that HR can convey the true value of enabling effective conversations - and by extension, encourage managers and employees to play their part in building a culture that supports them.
Of course, there will no doubt be a variable comfort level amongst managers when it comes to talking to employees about human-centric issues. In fact, our own research shows that despite employees most wanting to talk about wellbeing and work-life balance during their one-to-ones, the majority of managers are more at ease when talking about performance ratings and objectives - in other words, the more structured and process-driven stuff.
What we need to do is upskill managers in how to have effective and human conversations with their employees - conversations that focus as much on wellbeing and work-life balance, as they do goal-setting. This calls for soft skills development at scale - and HR must make it a top priority on the corporate learning agenda.
So the final piece of the puzzle here comes down to technology - or more specifically, procuring HR tech that not only enables, but optimises these regular, focused, and effective conversations.
OpenBlend is, of course, purpose-built to do exactly this. Our platform not only facilitates regular one-to-ones, it provides managers with bespoke frameworks from which to support the very best conversations - and given these represent the very cornerstone of employee experience, investing in the right technology is essential to success.