4 steps to being OK
Jo Field is our Executive Manager for Disability and Community Development at Feros Care. With over 40 years experience as a social worker in human services, she shares her wisdom this R U OK? Day.
BY JO FIELD
R U OK? Day has created a wonderful legacy of encouraging people to meaningfully connect with each other and begin important conversations.
According to R U OK?, eight people take their lives every day in Australia, and 89% of people report knowing someone who has made a suicide attempt. It’s more essential than ever that we take the time to check in on each other – not only in our
personal lives, but also in the workplace.
At Feros Care, we understand how key it is for our clients and team members to maintain both physical and mental health. Life can send many bumps in the road, and developing the resilience and strength to move through them is key to the care we provide
to the most vulnerable members of our communities.
I’ve spent 40 years working as a social worker in human services, with many of those years in child protection, youth justice and Corrections. I know just how important it is to ensure that the people doing the caring are cared for.
If you also work in a care-centric environment, here are my suggestions for making sure you are okay, as well as reaching out to those in your life and starting that R U OK? conversation.
R U OK? Day tips
1. Put your own oxygen mask on first, then help others
It can be very difficult to look after others if you haven’t taken the time to look after yourself, or get any support you may need to navigate challenges that come up in your personal and work life.
I knew very early on in my career that, when working with difficult situations, you need to have a good work-life balance – otherwise those situations can trigger and upset you.
For me personally, I’ve always used exercise as a form of mindfulness and reflection. Exercise is a non-negotiable for me, although the form of exercise has changed over the years. These days, it’s a daily early morning walk (instead of a
run!) and yoga five times per week.
Over the years I have ensured that I have a self care plan with good supports from family and friends. I also do a gratitude/thanks exercise when I wake up every morning.
Finding the right supports in my life, and paying that support forward through to my team, has been essential; and I encourage anyone to reach out and seek support as they need it.
At Feros Care, this takes the form of creating Wellbeing Plans for my team members; encouraging individuals to access our Employee Assistance Program as necessary; and encouraging events such as our R U OK Panel Discussion, featuring experts discussing
topics such as work-life balance and how to support family and friends.
2. Check in with people when you’ve noticed “five bad days”
I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to notice signs about other people’s wellbeing, especially at Feros Care, where one of our values is ‘Kindness Warriors’; we are compassionate in our interactions, open and honest
in conversations, and always prioritise supporting our clients and colleagues.
The ‘No Qualifications Needed’ theme of R U OK? serves to remind people that you don’t need to be a health professional or a social worker to reach out to someone.
But how do you know when is best to check in with someone?
At our Local Area Coordination conference in 2021, we had the wonderful Anna Feringa come and speak to our team members. Anna is a Workplace Mental Health expert, and mentioned that everyone has bad days – but if you notice that someone has had
five bad days in a row, it’s time to check in with them.
I think we’ve all been in a place where we have had five bad days in a row. We all want someone there who cares.
Whenever I’m not my usual self, and someone has noticed that I might be having a bad day, I really am grateful that they have noticed. It makes me feel like someone has cared and noticed how I am.
And if in doubt, you can check the R U OK website for how to ask.
3. Be prepared for the first response to be “I’m fine”
So many of us have been taught to try to keep it all in, or pass things off as being fine when they are not.
If you’re having a conversation with someone and they initially say that they are okay, this is where you may need to follow it up with a gentle observation. Something like, “I just noticed you looked a bit down. You might like to talk about
it today or maybe we can meet later for a coffee?”
If someone doesn’t want to talk, don’t be put off. It’s always better to have checked in than to not.
And if they do want to talk, the key next step is to listen and give your full attention, listening with all your heart and both your ears, because someone can tell if you’re not completely there. That is something I learned in my experience of
working with children and young people – because kids are great, they’re the first to call it out if you are not paying full attention!
Once you have listened, a great next step is to ask people what they have done in the past that has helped them. It’s a great strengths based way to encourage them to reflect on the things that get them back into a healthy emotional and physical
There’s also a toolkit on the R U OK? website which points to several resources. You can encourage someone to put together a plan, list some goals and stick to them. Find help for them here.
4. Continue to check in regularly
Connecting with other people is so important, and communication should not be taken for granted. Establishing regular fortnightly check-ins with your manager or workers is good practice but regular, informal check-ups are just as important as the formal
ones. A quick little Microsoft Teams message or an email can keep people really connected.
That’s possibly the best thing to have come out of the pandemic; we understand how to connect remotely. You no longer have to be sitting in the same office as someone to check in with them.
As a leader, it’s great to set up a system for people to come to you, and learn to balance it with getting your work done. Checking in with someone may take away from your regular work program, but it’s one of the most important things.
One small conversation can do wonders in changing someone’s situation, and having energetic, passionate, emotionally resilient workers means we can do great work.
Keep up to date with as much training as you can, such as the Mental Health First Aid course offered via Feros Care to team members.
It’s not just helpful skills for work, it’s also helpful for your family and friends. It’s all reciprocal communication skills.
We all want a culture that supports care and concern. We all want our carers to be cared for.