IoD Surrey staged its first event on 11th October, addressing the impact of mental health in the workplace.
This informative and sometimes emotionally challenging event was the brainchild of Guildford First, steered by Clive Stone, IoD’s Mental Health Ambassador.
Barclays Bank and Guildford Borough Council were generous event sponsors, with the University of Surrey providing the venue.
Speakers from local businesses shared unique perspectives, reliving their own mental health stories.
Clive Stone (CEO Oakleaf Enterprise) disclosed his personal experiences of leading a mental health charity before he had openly acknowledged his own battles with depression and manic behaviour. This was nearly twenty years ago. Whilst stigma has decreased, he readily acknowledges that there is still much to improve. Clive said that no one can expect others to pick up the pieces of poor mental health; everyone has role in having difficult conversations with colleagues if they are unwell. Everyone can actively listen to support others. With 5,688 suicides in the UK in 2016 we have a long way to go.
Nick White (Yvonne Arnaud Theatre) offered another perspective. His challenges derive from caring for a family member living with mental illness. It is easy for business leaders to believe that domestic issues are not their problem. He reminded us that what happens outside of work can impact work performance significantly. It is valuable for employers to understand their staff, their needs and changes occurring in their lives. Too often business leaders react by facilitating an exit for employees facing difficulties, instead of considering how they can better retain staff. Beyond the moral argument for actively promoting wellbeing, the cost estimated by ACAS of recruiting a new employee is over £5,500, a strong business case for supporting employees through health problems.
Mandy Stevens a psychiatric nurse (latterly a Director of Nursing) has practised in mental health for over 25 years. In late 2016 she experienced her own mental health crisis; she was hospitalised for several months. She recalled the assistance she received from her employer at the onset of her illness, providing space and support, but of equal importance, asking her what was wrong. Mandy’s talk was powerful as she related the desperate lows she experienced. Now recovered and rebuilding her life, she advocates for positive mental health. Her key message is learning to say “No”.
Thomas Duncan Bell delivered a graphic talk about factors which may have contributed to his bi-polar diagnosis and how he has learnt to channel his strengths into business. He is passionate about helping education providers understand how they can help students. Likewise he urged employers to enable employees to direct their abilities and energies as their illness fluctuates.
Geoff McDonald from Minds at Work (formerly a senior HR executive with Unilever) guided the audience through the onset of his illness, and the wellbeing culture he managed to imbed within Unilever. His main message was that business must not focus solely on physical safety within Health & Safety deliberations. They must incorporate wellness activities and create cohesive teams of employees who are friends as well as work colleagues.
Seamus Nevin (IoD’s Head of Policy Research) closed the event, providing hard figures about the cost to employers from mental health issues. He highlighted the excellent policy work which IoD is developing regarding mental health and a range of useful resources for members.
The audience left with practical ideas on how to make their own workplaces more mentally healthy. The event provoked participants to reconsider values and to reflect on the human and economic argument for handling employees’ mental wellbeing proactively.