Bring your whole self to work

Bring your whole self to work…wherever that may be at the moment…

“In 2020 we shouldn’t have to leave parts of our identity behind – be that our cultural or ethnic background, sexuality, or health – when we work. When we’re empowered to be our whole self at work, we can build deeper connections.  This helps us to be more understanding of our colleagues, so we can work better together, whether online or in person” (MHFA England)  

I pondered over writing a blog around this given the current challenges we are all facing and thought it’s probably more important than ever.   Because people will be worried about the impact this is going to have whether it be around physical health, finances, mental health etc.   I have found it interesting the different perspectives and concerns people have, whether it be around catching the virus, passing it to a loved one, their job or business, losing a much needed holiday or having enough food and toilet roll.  The point is they are all real concerns, they are real to the individual, you may not share their concerns or agree with them but to the person who is experiencing  them, both your and their perspectives will be influenced by many factors including:  

Our frame of reference 

The way we make sense of the world, of other people and ourselves including our feelings, beliefs and behaviours are unique to each of us.  They are shaped by a range of factors including upbringing and experiences.  So, we see things slightly differently and therefore can treat ourselves and others differently too.  Sometimes this can impact on our ability to listen and support one another. 

Our stress vulnerability 

In the stress container model, the level of vulnerability a person carries is represented by the size of the container into which everyday stress flows.  The lower the person’s vulnerability to stress the larger their container. The size is down to many factors including our background.  The smaller the container the more likely it is to overflow leading to stress. There are some helpful coping strategies which can help let stress out such as getting adequate rest, asking for help and making time for valued experiences.  

So, what can we do? 

I was thinking about the approach we take as  mental health first aiders.  If we want people to bring their whole self to work at the moment (even if it is virtual), then it may be helpful to be open to and encourage people to talk about their perspectives and concerns. Especially given that people may be feeling more isolated than ever working remotely and practising social distancing….so maybe we could try the following steps:

Check-in with each other and initiate a conversation 

Now more than ever if we feel able it’s important that we check in with each other and see how we can support one another.    Simply initiating a conversation and listening can show that we care and encourages people to be themselves.


Listening non-judgementally allows the listener to hear and understand what is being said and makes it easier for the person to feel they can talk freely about their concerns without feeling they are being judged.  Coming back to our frame of reference, it’s about putting aside any preconceived judgements about the person or their situation and avoiding expressing them. 

Give support 

It could involve practical support with for example attending a virtual meeting for someone and emotional support such as recognising and accepting how the person feels. 

Encourage professional support

You may be able to discuss options that may be available and signpost to professional help and support such as legal, financial, health. Exploring options may help identify any barriers or challenges about accessing support and help identify where you may be able to assist as well as helping the person take some control back of their situation.   

Encourage other supports 

Encouraging other support such as the support of colleagues, family, friends and others are important (even virtually).  

Care for yourself 

It’s important to remember to look after our wellbeing also and MHFA have developed the following useful resource for supporting your mental health while working from home. 

So why am I writing this? Because I have found the advice, support, approach from different people interesting, from  “stop reading the news it’s making you worse”, “stop looking at Facebook it’s heightening your anxiety”, “I can’t wait for time off work to get the decorating done” “we all need to try and be positive”.  Whilst well-meaning and practical options are great, let’s not forget that whilst we can and will get through this time people also need to be able to be their whole self, share and talk about their concerns and have someone to listen to them…