Never be afraid to tackle a thorny challenge, last week at the latest fishbowl event, we took on the issue of mental health.
Mental health in the workplace is a serious issue facing us as individuals and businesses. At a human level, 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues each year and 1 in 6 of us will experience an issue every single week. On a business level, we also see a serious impact, with an estimated cost to the economy of between £33-42bn in 2017.
So just a small task facing us then, as we came together to discuss mental health in the workplace – and more importantly, the practical steps that can be taken to make a genuine difference.
It was an inspiring night, with countless examples of amazing honesty and openness, interspersed with guidance on practical steps we can take.
So, how do we make a difference? How do we create the change we need to see?
A full write up of all the suggestions will follow shortly from The Marketing Society, but in advance of that, I’d like to share a personal perspective on 2 of the key themes that emerged:
1. Creating a supportive environment
With latest studies showing that only 16% of people are willing to talk about mental health with their boss, then there is clearly a huge way to go to creating a safe environment where people feel more able
to talk openly.
The great news is that there were loads of examples of simple things that can be done that are having a powerful impact in the workplaces that have adopted them. But two principles really stood out to me:
- Thoughtfulness: It’s not hard. It’s hard wired into our humanity. Listen. Create time. Be kind. Remember we are emotional people, not rational robots.
- Modelling: Demonstrating the behaviour creates an almost infectious mirrored behaviour. We all have mental health and many of us have mental health challenges. Show it. Be open. You’ll be surprised how quickly others follow.
These are powerful & active steps, that offer tangible evidence of the business commitment to take it seriously.
2. Refining the culture
The first step is huge, but if the culture is at least partly responsible for mental health issues, then all we are doing is addressing the symptoms, rather than the cause.
In every business, there are aspects of the culture that may be contributing to mental health issues. Be it off the cuff remarks, unintended consequences of certain values, or communication behaviour. Don’t ignore it. Don’t laugh it off. Face the elephant in the room and refine the culture. I’ve previously written about how much of an impact these unintended things can have in a business.
I can’t even begin to do justice to the honesty, openness & vulnerability with which everyone contributed. It was genuinely humbling and a huge privilege to be a part of. But I would like to make one
I’ve deliberately not used the word brave so far. Why?
Because for me, bravery is determined by others. Bravery is the judgement of one person on another:
- “That was a brave thing to do”
- “How brave of you”
- “Wow, they are so brave for saying that”
But what we saw last night – and what seems to have been so successful in those organisations that are showing the way in this space – isn’t determined by others. It is determined by individuals; individuals who take ownership of the story of their mental health. It is empowering, powerful and contagious. It elicits respect and prompts a reaction in kind.
When it comes from the empowered individual – and literally ‘from the heart’ – it isn’t bravery. It’s courage.
How do we make that change we need to see?
By being courageous. From the heart. With power.
Take that courageous first step and show the way. Others will follow. That’s the way all change happens.