Listening, advising, mediating: confidential advisors tell us about their job

The confidential advisor is the first point of contact for employees who struggle with stress, burn-out, depression, harassment, conflicts, sexual harassment... He/she offers a listening ear, advises and mediates. Two confidential advisors explain how they approach and experience these issues.

Thanks to the compulsory basic training and refresher training, confidential advisors are perfectly trained to help colleagues facing a psychosocial issue. However, practice does make perfect. That is why we asked confidential advisors Boudewijn D’Hauwers (prevention advisor on psychosocial aspects at Mensura) and Fabienne Sirlande (account manager at Mensura) what experience had brought them.

Which qualities should a confidential advisor possess?

Boudewijn: “As a confidential advisor, you have to deal with all kinds of psychosocial issues. Someone assuming this role should therefore be able to listen carefully and patiently. This means, among other things, that you ask the right questions, pick up emotions and act as a sounding board. Emotional colleagues will often have a chaotic line of thought. You help them by rearranging everything in a logical order.”

Fabienne: “We are their dedicated contact person, especially in cases of internal conflicts. But choosing a side during a dispute is simply not done. If a colleague comes to me, I will act impartially and without prejudice. Empathy is also important: show understanding, even if you’d have a different reaction. It’s about how that person experiences the situation.”

How do you ensure that you are available as a confidential advisor?

Fabienne: “Normally, the work regulations state who is the confidential advisor within an organisation. Furthermore, the intranet or internal presentations are ideal ways to remind colleagues that they can come to you. Personally, I make sure that I am as accessible as possible, both at the office and when on the move.”

Boudewijn: “After a chat, I like to follow-up with the person who came to me. During this follow-up we discuss other possible actions. Ultimately, they decide what will or will not happen afterwards.”

When do you prefer to refer colleagues?

Fabienne: “Before I decide to refer someone suffering from a mental health issue, I first examine together with the person concerned what he/she can do himself or herself. Step two concerns the role of the confidential advisor: if the person in question wants me to intervene, that’s an option. For example, in the event of a conflict with a manager, we will discuss the purpose of the intervention and what is or will not be communicated.”

Boudewijn: “If it turns out to be burn-out or depression, you, as the confidential advisor, should refer the colleague to a therapist. External help is also required in cases of private issues such as domestic violence or financial difficulties. But, ultimately, the person concerned should make that choice.”

Can a manager also offer psychosocial support?

Boudewijn: “Absolutely. But they would do well to first hone their skills and follow training courses. Our First Aid Mental Health training for supervisors teaches them the right skills to identify issues in time and initiate a confidential chat with the sufferer.

However, if the manager is the cause of the request for help, then this complicates the situation. In this case, a confidential advisor should intervene.”

Discover how an approach revolving on First Aid for Mental Health issues helps prevent avoidable absenteeism in your organisation.

Do you have any tips for other confidential advisors?

Fabienne: “At the start of a conversation, emphasize that you are really a “vault” and will keep everything that is said confidential. Know your organisation and corporate culture, and build a network to be able to refer people. And finally: even if it is with the best of intentions, don’t undertake anything without the permission of the person concerned.”

Planning to appoint a confidential advisor? We will be happy to help

As an external service, Mensura can screen your candidate confidential advisors for their suitability and support your appointed confidential advisors in their role. We also offer the mandatory basic training and annual supervision course to help them hone their skills in this specific domain.

Read all blog posts about ‘mentally fit’.