Everything You Need to Know about Setting up Peer Support Groups at Work

It is difficult for individuals to deal with mental health challenges alone. But when people come together, real change can take place.

Everything You Need to Know about Setting up Peer Support Groups at Work
How to set up peer support groups at work

Most people find it tough to talk about their mental struggles, which is why so many of us try to deal with problems on our own. We have all heard of support groups that help people who are coping with diseases, serious illnesses, addiction, and other difficult problems. These kinds of spaces also exist for companies and organisations. They are called peer support groups for the workplace.

Employees in the workplace need to be able to share their personal or professional problems and experiences in a supportive, confidential, and non-judgemental setting. Studies have shown that peer support groups improve mental health by making people feel more positive and hopeful. These are very important focus areas, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are some things you need to know about support groups before you get started:

What Happens During a Peer Support Session?

Employees can come together during these sessions to speak openly about their feelings, experiences, and tough moments in their life. Other members who hear them can provide support by listening to them, and sharing similar experiences. With 1 in 7 Indians suffering from a mental health problem, it is important to create empathetic group-based platforms where people can give and receive empathy and support each other’s mental wellbeing.

Who Leads the Support Group?
Who Leads the Support Group?

Who Leads the Support Group?

HR Leaders, Team Managers, or volunteer employees can lead these sessions. Whoever is in charge must respect the rules of the group during each meeting. The peer support meetings can also be guided by trained professionals or wellness coaches who have more experience dealing with difficult emotions and issues.

What Is the Benefit of Peer Support Sessions?

If these sessions are conducted regularly, it can build trust among team members. They will feel safe sharing their emotions and be able to understand their coworkers much better. It can also help deal with the feelings of loneliness and anxiety that have built up during the Pandemic. Research has shown that when people hear that others have experienced similar feelings they feel more comfortable with their thoughts and are likelier to keep sharing.

Steps to Set up a Peer Support Group
Steps to Set up a Peer Support Group 

Steps to Set up a Peer Support Group in Your Workplace

It is important to follow each of these steps to get the best results and make all employees feel comfortable.

  1. Identify the needs of your team members: You can get to know this by conducting an informal and confidential survey within the team. This information can help understand if people are dealing with workplace depression, burnout, stress, anxiety, or other issues. Understanding the needs of the employees helps to establish a shared peer support purpose.
  2. Pick a facilitator: A facilitator is a person who will begin the sessions, keep track of the days it takes place, and will make sure that the group rules are followed. The facilitator should attend all the meetings and have a calm, non-judgemental attitude. This role can be taken up by a senior manager, but your best bet is getting a professional psychologist who is trained to conduct support groups.
  3. Generating awareness: For people to join, they must know that such a group exists for team wellness. You can do this through announcements, posts, and emails. A few important things to mention when you tell employees about the support group is that it is a safe and confidential space for everyone to share their feelings.
  4. Decide the membership rules:  There are two ways to conduct a peer support group. One way is with closed membership where group members need to be approved by everyone before they join. This helps to build a sense of trust between everyone in the peer support network. The other way is through open membership where anyone can join the group meetings when they feel like it. This allows other employees to choose when they would like to join, in case they were feeling shy or uncomfortable before.
  5. Set basic rules: The facilitator must use the first peer support session to set the rules of the group. Some important rules for the group to follow will include respecting the feelings of other members, keeping everything confidential, having an open mind, and being empathetic toward their coworkers. These boundaries must be followed in each session so that employees feel comfortable attending them.
  6. Having a wellbeing expert on board: During peer support meetings, employees might share personal or difficult experiences with the group. Therefore it is important to have a counselor, mental health expert, or trained well-being professional present during the sessions.
  7. If the support group is online: Remote workers can also benefit from mental health support. When conducting peer support sessions online, it is important to find an environment with less background noise so that employees do not get distracted. Wearing earphones can help maintain confidentiality so that people around you aren’t able to listen in on sessions.
Challenges of setting up peer support groups
Challenges of setting up peer support groups

Challenges of setting up peer support groups at work

There can be some difficulties when you set up these well-being sessions or begin conducting meetings. Here are some of the obstacles you may face and how you can handle them:

  1. Lack of time: Some employees might not have enough time to attend the session because of other responsibilities in their life. You can make it easier for people to attend by keeping the sessions short, setting them up once a week, or conducting the peer support sessions during work hours. It is up to you to find out what works best for your team by checking in with them.
  2. Lack of awareness: Many employees might not understand the reason or purpose of a support group. Leaders and HR managers need to clear the doubts of the employees and answer any questions that may come up without judgement.
  3. Internet issues: During online peer support sessions, you need to expect a lag in connectivity or other internet issues. You can keep a backup device to ensure that you will be able to attend the session even if you drop out of the meeting. If there is a lag in video or audio, you can ask employees to use the chat option while sharing.
  4. Breaking the rules: If you notice an employee who is being judgemental, or breaking the confidentiality of the peer support group, it is important to bring the issue to light as soon as possible. Maintaining honesty in the group is important for the facilitator and all its members.

Setting up a peer support group for your team can bring about a positive change in the overall workplace wellbeing. It is worth a shot!

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