Stigma Killed My Friend...(Mad World Summit)
…was the opening gambit of a conference on Mental Health in the Workplace that I attended last October. Geoff McDonald (one of Unilever’s senior execs and global HR leader until 2014) was referring to a close male friend of his, a banker who took his own life only a few years ago. The quote refers to the stigma still attached to talking about and addressing mental health issues in the workplace. The tide is turning but it’s a juggernaut to shift. Exactly one year on, October 9th 2018, I’ll be attending the inaugural Mad World Summit, supporting my friend Kristoff Dubose and Cirkularis8, a progressive workplace design & build pioneer. Feels serendipitous that Geoff will be opening this excellent and action-oriented event.
The wellbeing and mental health agenda has moved on so much over 12 months and things have changed dramatically for me too (starting my own business as a ‘talent’ consultant). I’d like to revisit some of my learnings as we approach World Mental Health Day 2018.
Where to Start with Corporate Wellbeing
Tackling the associated stigma is typically one of the first steps in properly addressing mental health and wellbeing in the corporate arena. Last year at Golin (PR and digital agency and my employer 2003-2018), we started by sharing anonymous quotes from senior members of the team (via a poster campaign) to start a dialogue and create a culture of empathy. That was the prelude to a mini-speaker series of lunch and learns, which included the wonderful Geoff who never fails to make an impact.
Then, there was a longer-term programme of internal training, which culminated in excellent Mental Health First Aid training with Richard Martin of Byrne and Dean.
I wanted to share some of my key take outs from the conference a year ago and some learnings over the intervening period;
· A common theme in many organisations I visit sadly is finding an exhausted, drained workforce. Burnout is the result of a never-ending drive for efficiency, doing more with less.
· Geoff and others like HR luminary Perry Timms are working on ways to put people’s drive, motivation or ‘energy’ first (rather than efficiency) in corporate UK. Nurture and even measure it in reviews – better for the individual, better in fact for organisational output. This will effectively help wellbeing become institutionalised which it has to be for change to be meaningful.
· What drives our energy & drive? Our wellbeing is a pyramid built upon a foundation of physical wellbeing, upon which emotional elements are laid, followed by mental and then at the top of the pyramid comes an individual’s sense of purpose. If all levels are nourished and sound then you achieve wellbeing.
‘You can’t pour an empty glass,’ says mental health campaigner, Geoff McDonald.
· I am hugely supportive of the notion that must find a way to shift the current narrative on mental health. Today, if you hear that phrase the assumption is in fact, mental ill-health. We need to turn the narrative to a positive one, turn mental wellness in fact, into a platform for competitive advantage.
2014 study by University of Warwick discovered that happy employees are 12% more productive, unhappy employees are 10% less productive than the average.
Susan Scott, best-selling author, psychologist, nutritionist & public speaker I saw at the same conference where I met Geoff. She wrote a book out last October, ‘How to Prevent Burnout’ which included research of 125 young UK professionals (21-32year olds). The study found that 39% felt close to burnout and worryingly 31% said line managers weren’t at all supportive. The survey also found that your own sense of purpose is central to your wellbeing – take note business leaders.
A Snapshot of UK Mental Health in 2018
1. Less than 20% of UK organisations have a mental health policy
2. 90% of mental illness in UK today is depression, anxiety and panic attacks
3. ¾ of people affected by stress and anxiety in the workplace don’t tell anyone
4. Suicide – is the biggest killer of young men and it’s growing
5. The pace and scale of organisational change is huge in today’s economy – that combined with lack of control/communication is a massive stress trigger (see psychological safety)
6. EU Courts are cracking down on cases relating to mental health, instructing tribunals to take a hard line on corporates. The UK HSE (Health & Safety Executive) is also cracking down and UK employers are now legally required to conduct an audit and risk assessment so there really is a business imperative to act here.
7. The natural daily cortisol cycle is being tinkered with today – people no longer tail off with the natural generation of cortisol in the afternoon and evening so therefore over 2/3 of young professionals struggle to sleep.
If you manage or work in a big team, take note of these signs of stress and depression to look out for or indeed, be alert to your own state;
a. Memory loss
b. Lack of concentration
c. Racing thoughts
d. Poor decision-making
g. Making mistakes
My hope for this World Mental Health Day on October 10th 2018 is that UK employers are compelled to collectively move a step or two forward on this journey. I do feel positive about the level of public dialogue but there remains a significant elephant in the room (stigma). I am hopeful with amazing events like Mad World and people like Geoff and pioneers like Cirkularis8, that we will continue to make good progress and turn conversation into meaningful, positive progress.