THIS week is Mental Health Awareness Week, which aims to raise awareness and educate around mental illness.
As well as the strong ethical and legal arguments in favour of investing in mental health training, there is an overwhelmingly convincing business case.
The London School of Economics estimated in 2011 for every £1 that was spent on mental health at work, the return is £9.00. And research published in the Lancet in 2017 raised this ratio – for every £1 spent on mental health at work, the return is £9.98.
What is encouraging is that we are living in a golden age – mental health is a top priority.
So it is fitting that I should be talking at two influential events (Keeping the Conversation Going at RBS HQ and Mental Health Matters, a Good Practice Event at Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh) this week about improving your mental health culture in the workplace.
For some, transforming the mental health culture at work may seem like the impossible – a little like climbing a sheer wall.
But it can be done, with simple improvements and the rewards are certainly worth it.
At Headtorch we have established training programmes to help de-stigmatise mental health, recognise signs someone may be struggling, speak with that individual and signpost them towards getting support. We involve participants – our programmes do a lot more than the ‘watch and listen approach’. We ask people to put themselves in the shoes of other employees.
Take Janet, she is a fictional character but many will relate to her.
Janet works in the canteen, her boss has asked her to do the third late shift in a row because one of her colleague’s is unwell and others have been made redundant. She will need to ask her mum to do the children’s pick up as her husband’s on late shift this week. She has been asked to make the scones, but she doesn’t normally make them (sausage rolls are her thing). Janet is missing her work mates and feels that loss of camaraderie. At the same time she is being exposed to a lot of change at work.
She is experiencing a lot of stress at home and at work – all as a result of her boss not observing what is going on with her. Janet certainly feels that mental health is not top priority in her workplace.
Only, when workplaces recognise that we all have mental health as we do physical health, then they can be transformed into a place where team members, managers and senior leaders can all talk to each other about mental health.
The unthinkable can happen.
The alternative is, ignore it. The result of this is that individuals feel isolated, colleagues don’t understand the issues surrounding mental health, there’s backstabbing and an attitude that mental illness is something ‘fake’.
‘Everyone apart from HR knows she’s at IT’.
A toxic working environment of generalisations, assumptions and collusion takes over.
When your workplace isn’t supportive people feel unable to speak out and this is when companies experience a talent drain. Not only will people leave, but you will also struggle to attract new talent.
In order to create an environment where employees feel confident enough to have supportive conversations, i.e. scale those heights with goat-like ability, you need to show you are a company that CARES.
This means that as a company you encourage people to have the courage to speak out, have an awareness of what other colleagues may be experiencing, have a mutual respect for one another, support an empathetic approach and engage in sustainable working practices.
To summarise, best practice around creating a mental healthy culture means it needs prioritising, planning and dedication throughout an organisation. It’s not rocket science so let’s make the miracle happen.
Amy McDonald, Headtorch Ltd
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