‘Are you ok?’ It doesn’t hurt to ask those around you – just to check in

23/09/11: For many of us we spend more time with the people we work with than with our families and loved ones. Our external environment, our workplace and our relationships in the workplace matter. They make or break a career. They raise or lower our levels of contentment.

And as with all aspects of living, worklife is full of ups and downs.

I’ve had a demanding eight weeks. Two of my senior management team overlapped on hols at the same time, others wanted time to juggle exams and we’ve had almost every remaining team member out sick from man flu through to chest infections. I also said goodbye to a much loved staff member, launched our new company website after a 9 month intensive project, a client can’t pay his bills and my temp PA had to shoot back to the UK on bereavement, leaving me feeling that even my own pretty enormous capacity for work was seriously under threat. I’ve also spent 2 weeks travelling interstate, and juggling the children in readiness for a trip to China.

Coupled with this, I have broken in two new junior members of staff and taken on two new middle managers. The upside is I’ve survived, been invited to be a Fellow of the Public Relations Institute of Australia (you have to be very old or very clever so my 14 year old daughter suggested I get a walking stick!) and we won a NSW PR award for excellence. A reminder ‘life is a balance’.

And the reality of course is that in spite of our own troubles, there are far worse things happening for others.

One of my good friends attended two funerals in a week and another is facing financial hardship and another a marriage breakup and personal difficulties.

Through all this time, one of the best questions I heard during the last 8 weeks from my team in the workplace was ‘Are you ok’?

When people are under pressure at work, as many are at the moment in this unsettled climate, it doesn’t hurt to enquire on someone’s wellbeing. Sometimes we are too embarrassed or too busy, or don’t feel it’s our place, or it may be taken the wrong way. But ‘Are you ok?’ provides a safety net. You would be surprised what it can catch at the most appropriate moment.

When things go wrong for our colleagues, there is often degrees of hurt, pain and misunderstanding involved. And in this crazy technology driven world where we have so much greater communication ability it is highly ironic that in our over-connected lives, there seems to exist greater anxiety, a reluctance to make mistakes, less focus on practical common sense and a lack of confidence about what is and isn’t possible.

Last week was R U OK Day. While this day raises much needed awareness on suicide prevention, the organisation also encourages us to look out for each other and hold regular and meaningful conversations in order to promote health and wellbeing in our families, workforce and everyday lives.

Having done so with my team this last week and been asked by those around me if I am OK, I have re-ignited an old friendship and had an honest and open conversation with a team member that I don’t think would have been discovered otherwise.

I watched the founder of RU OK Day, Gavin Larkin on Australian Story on Monday night who sadly passed away this Wednesday. His story is inspiring, brave and full of life learnings. As for most of us who hold down jobs, share more of our time with work colleagues than with our own families, the least we can do is ask each other, “Are you ok?”

When you’re busy running the show, the buck stops with you and too much lands on your plate – having someone ask of you are OK is just about as good as it gets – when you could do with a hand. It just may be the trigger that equalises and balances a situation and takes the heat out of a potential volcanic eruption or disaster.

My management team asks me each morning 4 fundamental questions

1.     What are the pressures for you today?

2.     What needs to be done before you leave?

3.     What is worrying you, if anything?

4.     What do you need from us?

They are good questions. And while I am directing a team of between 12 and 20 each day, three children, my separated but loving family, and dependant relatives, it’s good to know that at the end of the day, we are a team. Working together. Are you ok?