Discussing mental health with business people outside of the work environment gives a fascinating insight into how we have evolved culturally. The fear of admitting that we can’t cope is embedded so deeply in our mind that we would rather suffer in silence than dread having the conversation.
We still have a long way to go before we embrace mental health as a normal part of everyday life -not a big problem that makes us weak or unreliable. But why are we still too proud and scared to talk openly in the workplace?
“My head’s a bit broken!....” I remember the first time I received the text from Jane. She had been working for us for many years and had recently been promoted to manager of one of my teams. She was a natural manager (and leader in fact!) She knew exactly how to motivate people and turn negative situations into positives. She was very in-tune with her own emotions and used that to find other people’s strengths and weaknesses. She filled her staff with confidence and they were a highly resilient, successful team.
The first time we had discussed her mental health, she explained how she had found it difficult to open a conversation and talk about ‘mental health’. The words sounded harsh and she had grown up with the stigma that was attached to the words. Saying that “her head was a bit broken” was her way of dealing with the situation and taking time out before she reached crisis point. I knew that in a couple of days she would be back again, smiling and supporting her team to be the best they could be.
I had great respect for Jane and after leaving the company I often wondered how she was managing in the modern workplace. Litigation and new HR processes have changed the way that many employers manage ill health. Some employees struggle with change and are fearful of facing difficult back to work interviews, and in some cases disciplinary action for genuine sickness. Surely there are better ways of managing this?
Giving managers the skills to recognise when something is more than ‘just a bad day at work’ and providing well-being programmes can increase morale, reduce absence and improve productivity - without the risk of disengaged employees.
We all have situations that we have no control over that we can usually deal with, sometimes many stresses come at once and we struggle to cope. Learning how to prioritise our work-life balance to give ourselves some quality ‘time-out’ can get us back on track and enable us to cope with a hectic work schedule.
Most businesses will have at least one Jane or John in there somewhere. With 1 in 4 people having poor mental health at any given time, early intervention can be key in retaining talented employees/reducing costly staff turnover.
Talking is the first step, but Action speaks much louder than words!
Workplace Mental health (WMH) is a social enterprise based in Bolton, providing consultancy, training and elearning to businesses in the Northwest of England.
WMH is part of the Mental health Independent support team (MhIST – charity) which is celebrating 25 years of providing services and mental health initiatives across the region
Chris Gold 01204 537897