“What is the mask, what influences make up the mask and who do we feel that we are putting it on for?”
These are all questions that should be asked and thought about clearly when discussing the issue. Essentially, the ‘mask’ is our own human shield, made up of the innate sense of belonging that all human beings have. Whenever we may find ourselves out of control or out of depth, we try our best to fit in, as that is what keeps us safe, part of a ‘herd’- when doing this we often keep on our ‘mask’. When we make it into the fitting in stage, we will try almost anything to remain there and progress, it is important at this step to not show any weakness. But is this sustainable for someone’s wellbeing? Our panel at The Great British Workplace Wellbeing Series discuss the benefits of removing the mask, and what that really means.
In terms of leadership, vulnerability, openness and authenticity are key qualities that are indicative of a strong leader. Due to this an emphasis should be placed on leaders to remain resilient, optimistic and positive in situations that could effect their workplace. Taking the mask off and admitting things can be difficult is paramount, but ensure that you remain positive - it is all about keeping a sustainable balance.
Authenticity and realness may be seen as the most important factors of creating a workplace where people can ‘remove the mask’, as if your employees are unable to connect your words with your actions, this is where difficult relationships grow. If you are faking it then those around you will be able to tell that you don't have it all together, or that you may not want the best for them. With vulnerability comes uncertainty, risk and exposure, however in most cases, especially in the workplace, if handled correctly vulnerability can be a changing factor in good working relationships. Unless you can find a way of handling that vulnerability for yourself, you may be on a fast track to poor wellbeing.
When discussing the topic of removing the mask, Alex Holmes, author and mental health coach, suggests that it is beneficial to have wellebing coaches in the workplace and for stuff to be vulnerable, as work could be a place where there is therapeutic intervention. “It can be potentially challenging for people to leave the office, then have to deal with stress, then bring it back into the office again. Work should essentially turn into the whole package where resolutions and therapy can come from the workplace, such as having an intervention or having a wellbeing coach on hand.”
We may not always have coaches available, so as well as the opportunity to have a wellbeing coach, we should all make sure to lead within our own peer group and our own environment. The fundamentals for getting people to drop the mask is creating pockets within our cultures that can help make people feel safe. Listen carefully and pay attention to what's going on around you, there are subtle changes in the way everyone works that can help indicate that they may need help. It is important to create an environment where it is safe to explore that individuals needs. Creating a safe environment where everyone feels like they can speak freely without judgement is fundamental in todays workplace.
The balance is changing, according to Garry Mansell,Entrepreneur, Investor, Speaker and Author, “We are going to get taught a lot by Gen Z,as people are now starting to make a choice of whether they want to work for you or not. We are going to find ourselves as employers being taught by the people that we employ. They won't stand for things that have been previously accepted.”
Another question that was widely discussed by the panel was “is the mask harder to take off for a man or a woman - or are they both the same?’’. The answer lies somewhere between the fact that if you want to attract talent going forward, you have to treat and invest in them as an individual, not their gender. You have to think about things in a different way and create psychologically safe environments for everyone. The question isn't about gender but more about the fact of getting to a level of cognitive trust and people have to accept that you will make mistakes and the company will also make mistakes.
There are also certain characteristics that can make it more difficult for people to take off the mask. If someone is feeling unsafe or feel that they can't trust those around them then they are far more likely to keep on their mask, and keep up a front. Poor levels of trust stem from feeling like your contribution is not valued or worthy. Alex Holmes also says that cultivating a sense of belonging can create a barrier when removing the mask. “The human requirement for connection will force people to keep the mask on, and when you remove it, you may feel the fear of not being accepted. It takes a lot of bravery and courage to stand up and remove the mask”.
Lynda Holt, CEO of Health Service 360, states that “Organisations are expected to make change but when we think about what they are made up of (individual people), big changes don't come from the organisations but the people within it who take small steps. If you want to make a change, do it yourself as you will feel so much more powerful doing it.”