I’m fine thanks …

How many times have you either been asked how you feel, or have asked someone else the same question, only to trot out the same, ‘safe’, pre-programmed answer ‘I’m fine thanks’. The conversation very rarely delves any deeper and validates whether or not the person really is ‘fine’. We’ve all heard the old saying that the definition of a ‘bore’ is someone who, when asked how they feel, actually tells you!

This is all very amusing, but do these automatic responses actually just serve to absolve us of the responsibility to watch out for each other? Should we feel any responsibility for each other’s well-being? As individuals, as organizations? We all need to answer these questions for ourselves, but perhaps it’s helpful to look at the impact of a friend, loved one or colleague who’s well-being is on a downward trend.

I am neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist. I am also not a counsellor. If you believe someone you know is displaying symptoms of a clinical condition, then I would recommend referring to someone who can make a clinical assessment.

Well-being is closely associated with our internal sense of worth, our place in the world, our ability to control, contribute and create meaning in our own lives and the lives of others. When your well-being is good, you easily move into a flow state and everything is good, time passes quickly and things work as they should. When your well-being is poor, everything becomes more of a challenge, you slip back from unconscious competence to lower levels of capability and the harder you try, the more difficult it becomes to do anything. You are still the same person, you haven’t forgotten how to do things, it’s just that things aren’t going as well as they could, you can’t focus, you can’t operate at the level you know you’re capable of and that just makes things worse.

The impact of poor well-being should be clearly visible. Lower morale, lower energy, lower level of social interaction, lower productivity, … The list goes on. The problem is often that the creeping nature of low well-being masks the change. There is often no easily identifiable moment when things go from great to bad, but a gradual, day-by-day small change that goes un-noticed and we accept the ‘I’m fine thanks’, as we pass in the hallway.

Perhaps we can all help each other by taking more notice of our friends, loved ones and colleagues. Asking ourselves if ‘I’m fine thanks’ rings true. Spotting when someone is slowly withdrawing, consistently performing at a lower level than expected, not engaging in the same way as usual with others.

Organizations can help by providing an environment of safety and awareness. Poor staff well-being is costly for a business, so creating awareness and spotting when things are going wrong makes good business sense. Investing in communication skills to enable people to have the conversations they need, coaching skills to support people when they get ‘stuck’ and leadership skills to generate positivity and flow in the workplace, helps to keep a healthy workplace environment.  Giving people the basic understanding of how to spot when someone is showing the early warning signs can help to avoid more serious conditions developing and ensure that people get the support they need, when they need it most.

Mental Health and Well-being are popular topics that businesses use to ‘show they care’. The real difference comes when everyone in a business takes the time to look beyond the ‘I’m fine thanks’ and if someone seems a little ‘out of sorts’, stops for a chat and shows that they actually care.

Nigel Girling

MD- People in Flow Ltd