Don’t be a cupcake colleague

Today we’re just over half way through National Mental Health Month, an initiative focused on raising awareness of Australian mental health.

I personally love and celebrate opportunities to draw attention to mental health but a recent event has me concerned that some may be paying little more than lip service to improving mental health in our workplaces and communities.

A good friend of mine shared her experience of RUOK? Day which occurred last month. The story goes …

Patricia is an accountant who has been working with a blue chip Australian company for around 12 months while the person usually in that role has been on parental leave. Patricia and her colleagues are hybrid working and RUOK? Day happened to be a day that she was scheduled to be in the company’s CBD office.

When Patricia arrived at work she noticed one of her colleagues, Tom, sitting at a nearby desk. Patricia said a warm and genuine “Good morning” to Tom. Much to her surprise Tom practically grunted as a response.

A short time later another colleague arrived and started setting herself up for the day. Patricia also greeted this colleague in a friendly manner to receive only a slightly-more-positive response than she had from Tom.

These three employees worked alongside each other without any further interaction for a couple of hours.

At 10.00am Tom looked up and brightly said to his two colleagues “It’s RUOK? Day … are you coming for cupcakes?”

Patricia was miffed … “Surely it’s not just all about cupcakes” she thought.

I would like to imagine that this is a unique situation in just one pocket of this big brand business but I suspect the scenario is much more common than we appreciate.

What we need to realise is that good mental health in the workplace is a product of a healthy culture and practices that are enacted day to day. When we say hello to a colleague; when we build relationships and show that we care; when we practice kindness and gratitude towards our team members, we increase the likelihood of noticing when a colleague is struggling mentally. With these stronger relationships we gain the permission to be able to have a conversation with them about their wellbeing.

RUOK? Day and Mental Health Month are great opportunities to reflect on mental health and to build our skills to support others but it is absolutely how we treat each other day to day that can create, or compromise, mental wellbeing in a workplace.

How could you use the next 13 days of Mental Health Month to positively impact the culture of your team and organisation?

We can start as simply as warmly greeting our colleagues each day. Could you get a team lunch in the schedule? How about a lunchtime walk which will have all manner of benefits for you and your team?

Let’s all avoid being the Cupcake Colleague unless, that is, you’re bringing in the homemade cupcakes to celebrate and support your colleagues.

Small steps are all it takes.