Culture and Connection

Why you shouldn’t celebrate RUOK day

Emily Lawson
May 9, 2024
min read
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RUOK Day is championed for bringing conversations around mental health to the forefront, encouraging the three-word question, "Are you okay?"

While the message and concept are powerful, as the years have passed, it’s become a band-aid over the gushing wound that is workplace mental health. Celebrated by cupcakes and a free lunch, coworkers exchange the question more as a phrase, like you would ask about the weather. The hype and celebration only one day a year underscore an idea that mental health can be solved with a single conversation, only permissible when it fits into a scheduled calendar date.

So, should this really be a day businesses celebrate in 2024?

Untrained Employees and Leaders

What happens when an employee or manager is faced with someone who says they’re not okay? This is typically the part of the conversation no one is prepared for, despite the message of RUOK Day. For someone struggling with mental health, it can be a big step for them to open up to someone they trust in the workplace, so responding with compassion is essential to not shut down the individual.

HR and well-being teams need to ensure their staff are educated on mental health and how to look out for others in their team. It’s integral that your leaders know how to promote and prioritize, protect, and act to better support their own and others' mental health and well-being.

What Should You Do?

Invest in mental health training for your leaders and employees.

Booking in seminars and training modules regularly is a great initial step to destigmatising the conversation and creating healthy habits around communication and connection. Once a quarter, provide mental health education followed by continued discussions and check-ins to ensure a continued culture of openness.

Lead by example.

Make a practice of checking in with your employees and leaders, take mental health leave when needed, and offer supportive resources in your team meetings and online communications. Encourage others to take personal leave when needed and check in with them following this.

Restricted Conversations About Mental Health

In a workplace where there is no room for mistakes, excessive stress, sick guilt, and unhealthy boundaries, RUOK Day can feel more like a joke than a conversation starter. To actually make these days impactful in your workplace, the foundation lies in creating a culture that already fosters these types of conversations.

Employers and managers should look inwards, considering:

  • Do we have reasonable expectations for our team?
  • Are we asking them to do the work of multiple people?
  • Do we offer mental health leave?
  • Is this a safe place for minorities?
  • How do I respond to an employee who comes to me with an issue?
  • If I were an employee, would I feel comfortable asking for mental health leave?
  • How are we contributing to our employees' wellness or lack thereof?

Mental health is a cyclical and ongoing issue, so your mental health attitudes should be treated as such. Proactively addressing and refining your processes and culture is essential for ensuring that meaningful efforts are embraced by your employees and leaders.

This can be fostered through smaller actions such as:

  • Displaying mental health resources in bathrooms and communal areas.
  • Allowing mental health leave.
  • Regular check-ins.
  • Assessing your leadership style, being more compassionate with your employees.

Once the groundwork has been completed, hosting regular mental health workshops and seminars will become the norm within your workplace, allowing for days such as RUOK Day to have a meaningful impact on your employees.

So, you caught us, we don't really think you shouldn’t celebrate RUOK Day.

In reality, we believe that with the correct culture around mental health, this can be an added bonus to your busy wellbeing calendar. With an abundance of speakers, online modules, and seminars available, RUOK Day can be a great way to further enhance your business's mental health programming, catering to more nuanced and advanced topics, and dedicating a day to polishing their existing knowledge.

So, get out the cupcakes and ask your staff if they are okay, only if you are sure that when someone responds ‘no’, your entire workplace knows what to do.

Why you shouldn’t celebrate RUOK day
Emily Lawson