Creating a safe space for workers to share their struggles.

Our top tips to build trust and encourage open communication.

Us humans are complex and unique creatures with vastly different physical, social, and emotional needs. Put more than a few of us in a team and you can understand why, traditionally, workers have been encouraged to only bring their ‘best selves’ to work and leave all the messy, personal stuff at home! Whilst this might sound ideal for work productivity, in fact, the opposite is true, with research consistently showing us that managers who express genuine care and compassion for their workers’ wellbeing results in higher productivity and engagement, and lower absenteeism and burnout.

And although many leaders may think they encourage open discussion about wellbeing at work, unfortunately, we’re yet to see this reflect in Australian workplace culture, with the 2021 Wellbeing Lab Workplace Report stating that only 8% of workers felt safe reaching out to their boss at work when they were struggling; even worse, perhaps, is that 16% of workers would not tell anyone, not even their family and friends.

The positive news is that some leaders are now choosing to move away from the traditional work model and are encouraging their people to bring all of themselves to work and share their struggles in a safe and accepting environment.  Read on to discover our top tips that you can introduce today to encourage positive and open communication in your workplace, without having to make any big, complex, and expensive changes!… 

1. Communicate frequently, and informally.

No, we’re not talking about your standard performance discussions (although there is a place for those, too)! We suggest implementing regular informal catch-ups with your staff. Ask them a question about their family, or their hobbies. Take them out for a coffee and find out what they did on the weekend, what book they’re reading, or what podcast they’re listening to. And don’t be afraid to reveal things about yourself too. Getting to know your people on a human level helps build trust and loyalty.

2. Provide safe channels for giving and receiving feedback.

One of the biggest things you can give your people is allowing them to feel heard. It can be useful to offer a variety of feedback channels, such as directly to yourself as their leader, with a HR representative, or an anonymous suggestions box. And it doesn’t stop there. Show you have listened by acting on the feedback. Ask questions to ensure you have understood and provide updates on any changes. This shows your staff their ideas are valued, and they will be more inclined to speak up next time. 

3. Acknowledge that struggling is normal.

Help create a culture that supports the ebb and flow of wellbeing. Show vulnerability by acknowledging when you’re not having a great day, seek help from your peers when needed, and encourage others to do the same. Put it permanently on the agenda by simply asking ‘Are You Okay?’ as part of your regular catch-ups. The more familiar your staff become with discussing their struggles with you, the more likely they are to reach out for help before it reaches crisis-point.

The days of checking our personal lives at the work-door are no longer relevant. If we want to help our teams feel psychologically safe at work, it’s up to managers to lead the way! To get the very best from our people, let’s start acknowledging and celebrating all of the weird and wonderful pieces that make them who they are and such a vital part of our business success.

Awareness Co. is a Wollongong based Employee Engagement and Wellbeing consultancy, providing HR solutions that go beyond just work performance, and focus on developing individuals and teams to thrive in work and in life. Awareness Co. use the latest evidence-based tools to improve wellbeing, resilience and performance transforming the way you think, feel and behave at work. To learn more about our services, and to book in for your FREE Awareness Assessment, visit 

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