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Mental health and work – why senior management must lead by example

12 Jan 2018
Mental health cubes on wooden table

C-J Green, CEO of Servest UK, writes a compelling case for leaders to embrace health and wellbeing, saying that ‘words won’t cut it on their own – it is action that makes the difference’.

The wellbeing conversation

A lot of conversations are being had about ‘wellbeing’. To those who seek to create an organisational infrastructure that supports people in every facet of their professional and personal lives, this can be a frustrating label, because it can often evoke images of smoothie makers, beanbags, on-site meditation classes and so forth. Perhaps that’s why wellbeing is often considered to be “the fluffy stuff”, whereas it’s actually the stuff that underpins the real health of an organisation. People are the lifeblood of any business; if directors fail to look after their colleagues, they’ll fail in every other area too.

The real conversation

We are all prone to mental ill-health from time to time. Stress, for example. It can strike when you least expect it, or it can insidiously build up over a longer period and manifest into unusual or destructive behaviour. It can be difficult to spot in others, because people handle it differently – what affects one person may not affect another. Some will be vocal about their worries, whereas others will become quiet and withdrawn. While such changes in behaviour might indicate stress or anxiety, the best way to identify that someone is struggling is by talking to them. Sometimes the smallest acts, such as asking someone how they are, can make the biggest impact.

Engage

Talking openly about mental wellbeing can be difficult but it’s a necessary, worthwhile conversation and senior buy-in is critical. If leaders are not seen to be embracing health and wellbeing then it’s almost impossible to set a behavioural precedent and overcome any underlying stigma. You can’t hope to support wellbeing if this doesn’t emanate from a diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy; the two are linked. When applied to the workforce, diversity refers to the mix of people, and inclusion is the way everyone’s treated. Failing to create an inclusive culture means that the diverse talent you may have attracted in the first instance is stifled and repressed, which can lead to mental health issues. Organisations that invest in D&I are likely to have more engaged, motivated, happy and mentally healthy employees, which can lead to reduced absenteeism and improved productivity.

Ingrain

Unless you lead by example, wellbeing won’t become common practice. A major challenge in this arena is how leaders can encourage their colleagues to look after themselves. You can’t just nag people to take health and wellbeing seriously; nor can you simply display lots of posters recommending ‘five a day’ or ‘stairways over lifts’ and hope for the best. It’s about influencing the culture; the language and the behaviour. Yes, offering healthy food in the workplace is important; as is demonstrating that exercise is healthy. But a wellbeing strategy should go beyond that. Senior leadership should encourage it across the business if it’s to take on a life on its own. It’s about making it fun and ingraining it into the everyday.

Support

At Servest, we actively champion the wellbeing cause; not just because we provide a range of service lines designed to support people, but also because we believe in helping our colleagues be the best that they can be. A key part of our development programme includes helping people to unearth what makes them tick. I know that while I do a job that includes a huge amount of interaction, I’m someone who needs to regenerate on my own. I need that space in my life to recoup from that intensity. Our leadership programmes encourage people to understand themselves in order to put in place some mechanisms that can help them cope.  

A wellbeing strategy should strive to ensure individuals have the support network they need to be physically and mentally fit. Wellbeing as a concept demands openness and buy in from every layer of leadership; it’s an endeavour that can only work with a combination of honesty and a willingness to both listen and engage. Mostly though, it’s about recognising that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. There’s no wellbeing magic wand. But the more you talk about it, the more it will become part of a common language. Words won’t cut it on their own – it is action that makes the difference.  


C-J Green, CEO, Servest UK


C-J is the CEO (UK) of leading facilities management company Servest that employs over 20,000 people in the UK. Up until October 2017, she was the Group Chief People Officer at Servest. C-J is a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion and says that the people should be at the heart of every business. 




Mental health in the workplace

The IoD is committed to raising awareness of mental health issues in the workplace, with a particular focus on opening up the conversation for small and medium-sized businesses. We have created a hub packed full of helpful advice, best practice and useful resources, as well as shared experiences from business leaders.

Visit our mental health in the workplace hub

Get involved in the conversation  or use the hashtag

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