The power of connection

By Joe Roberts | May 12, 2022

The last big workplace shift happened in the 90s. Organizations restructured and reorganized as the internet grew and forced us all to grow with it. Then, throughout the pandemic, we shifted again: in an effort to stay safe and connected, we began working remotely, connecting with colleagues and friends through a screen and an internet connection.

Organizations adapted and gave employees the tools they needed to do their jobs remotely. But now, employees need a completely different toolkit.

As organizations enter another period of readjustment, there’s a problem to fix: the issue of social connectivity and the collective sense of emotional and mental depletion in our home lives and at work.

This dip in our mental health begs the question: as colleagues, how can we take care of one another? How can we see ourselves and our colleagues through to the other side of this?

To successfully pivot and function optimally in a post-lockdown workplace, mental health initiatives and the concept of psychological safety in the workforce need to be at the forefront.

What is psychological safety and why is it important

This concept introduces the notion that every employee needs and deserves to be comfortable when sharing ideas, speaking up in group situations, or when they make mistakes. They must believe they are in a safe place and won’t be judged or punished for their thoughts or actions.

With this in mind, we need to note that leaders carry a responsibility to their employees: they must ensure their emotional safety when it comes time to ask the hard questions and speak up about things that may be hard to speak about.

There are a few tangible ways leaders can do this:

  • Build a culture of energy health management. Regularly discuss, ask questions, and present and reinforce the key models of energy health and performance.
  • Identify a starting point on the wellbeing-performance continuum (of the self and others). Observe, engage, use language of empathy, and meet employees where they’re at.
  • Build the foundations of energy health. Regularly check for symptoms of energy imbalance or changes in their daily work.
  • Create recovery plans with micro-recovery activities. Reduce low priority, low control stressors.
  • Stretch employees when they’re ready. Increase the challenge when people are healthy. Use the language of resilient mindsets, emphasise mastery built on effort, and continue to reinforce the recovery essentials.

When employees feel psychologically safe in their work environment, they are more productive and loyal, which in turn leads to higher productivity and ultimately, higher success rates as an organization.

How to implement mental health initiatives in the workplace

When we separate mental health from overall workplace safety, or try to marginalize or categorize mental health components, we’re more likely to ignore or overlook signs of distress or strain. So first and foremost, we need to recognize this: mental health and physical safety need to be considered alongside one another.

Organizations need to directly address the importance of mental wellness and implement it into their safety and wellness policies the same way they would any other safety initiative. When these policies are in place, employees know there’s a spot at the table for mental health. They understand it’s something their organization values, which in turn makes employees more likely to speak up when there’s a problem.

Along with this, leaders need to lead with empathy, courage, and active listening. This creates the powerful mentorship and connection that organizations need. When people feel seen and heard—when they feel connected—they feel valued and respected. And to take this one step further, they feel protected and safe.

How can we do this?

There is of course no one-size-fits-all way to categorize mental health or to implement support for it in the workplace, but by creating modules or policies that are taught at onboarding, this starts the conversation with employees right from the get-go.

By bringing in speakers and organizing workshops, and simply checking in with our colleagues, we can continue the conversation and create the continuum between safety and mental health by offering tangible tools and touchpoints.

These conversations can seem daunting or awkward, but the sooner we start having them with our colleagues, the more normalized they become. To aid in this process, there are some simple phrases and icebreakers we can use to help everyone feel more comfortable with this process:

how to have a difficult conversation

be clear about the outcome you want to achieve

think about the way you need to behave in order to achieve your outcome

write down the key points you want to make

let the other person(s) know the purpose so they can prepare too

have some alone time before even just five minutes, to get your head in the best space

agree on some ground rules on how everyone can help the meeting go well

make it a two-way conversation - ask questions in a genuine spirit of inquiry-listen

focus the discussion on the problem not the personal

challenge rudeness or aggression as it happens - relating back to ground rules

if things get heated, take a 'time out' - get a cuppa for both of you

don't go straight to your desk

take some time to decompress. go for a walk. listen to music. get a drink.

take 10 minutes the next day to write down your lessons learned - what went well? what would you do differently?

What could possibly go wrong?

In 1989, I was living on the streets of Vancouver as a homeless Skidrow addict. I lived under the Georgia Viaduct and collected cans for a living. Having experienced catastrophic failure, I feel comfortable attesting to what it takes to pull out of the darkness.

Here’s the thing: people typically think that the opposite of addiction is sobriety.

It isn’t.

The opposite of addiction is connection.

When I was homeless, the thing that haunted me the most was the lack of social connectivity. With no place to be seen or heard, the roadblocks in front of me felt insurmountable.

And then someone reached out to me. I see you, he said. I see your potential. There’s more to you than what you can see in yourself.

For me, that was what it took. My rise out of addiction wasn’t rooted in personal reserves of strength; it was rooted in connection, and the people who reached out to me.

Now, I tackle the stigma associated with mental health and addiction in a straight-forward way by giving companies the tools they need to empower employees. By confronting limiting mindsets and behaviors, we can redefine what’s truly possible for individuals.

As we continue to transition out of a locked down society and workforce, let these be the tools we now give to our employees: Empathy. Safety. And healthy modeling. Remember: our employees—and our organizations—are only as healthy as their leaders.

Let’s help see each other through.

Joe Roberts joined Hatch as a keynote speaker at our recent Working Together Safely Forum, where he spoke in-depth on resiliency and mental health. To learn more about Joe, visit