Storytelling is a fundamental part of being human. It’s how information, culture and ways of living are passed down to the next generation. It’s also key to building connections and a sense of community.

When people share stories, it creates empathy, which in turn promotes a feeling of emotional connection and is a building block in helping deepen relationships with others. In the workplace, sharing a story can be a simple yet effective way to demonstrate to others that they aren’t alone while simultaneously fostering a positive organizational culture.

Humans are social beings who are hardwired biologically to be connected with each other. When organic opportunities to connect with others are lost, people are at greater risk of isolation and loneliness. One of the great things about work is the regular connections workers get to make with those who aren’t part of their immediate circle.

Read: HR leaders prioritizing employee mental health but lack access to resources

People spend most of their waking lives at work and their relationships with colleagues and managers can mean the difference between loving a job and dreading the thought of logging on Monday morning. These relationships can also have a huge impact on mental health.

Most of the time — and especially at work — it’s difficult to see when someone is struggling with their mental health. Stigma associated with mental health and mental illness continues to remain a barrier for those seeking support. However, workplaces can dismantle stigma by sharing stories about mental health. Hearing, seeing and learning of others’ experiences provides a sense of comfort and solidarity that helps to reduce feelings of isolation.

It can be intimidating to share a story, especially if an employee hasn’t developed a sense of trust with colleagues. One of the best things that leaders and managers can do for employees is to create a space where workers feel they can bring their whole selves to work. Developing this type of culture doesn’t happen overnight — it requires consistency, trust and support.

Read: 71% of Canadian employees say mental health impacted their ability to work in the past year: survey

Here are some of the initial steps that managers can take:

  • Ask workers how they’re doing in one-on-one meetings;
  • Use a rating scale of one to 10 to quickly and efficiently assess how people are feeling;
  • Prioritize time to discuss thoughts, feelings and emotions, along with non work-related topics;
  • Brainstorm a list of adjectives besides ‘good’ or ‘fine’ that employees can reference when answering the question, ‘how are you today?;’ and
  • Be vulnerable with workers when discussing what’s going on in their lives.

It’s proven that people with strong connections are happier, less stressed and healthier in life. In the workplace, these connections boost engagement, team morale and resilience. Sharing personal experiences and stories at work isn’t only valuable for promoting connection and understanding — it can help foster a psychologically safe and healthy workplace.

Read: How 5 employers are ensuring mental health remains a priority