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“You can’t run a business without thinking about mental health”

20 Sep 2021

Shaun Davis is Global Director of Compliance & Sustainability (Safety, Health, Wellbeing, Corporate Security and Regulatory Compliance) at Royal Mail and co-author of ‘Positive male mind’. He believes that mental health support should be integrated into an organisation’s health and safety policy. 

“A positive approach to the mental health of your workers should be part of any responsible  business. You can’t say you’re a sustainable, ethical organisation if you’re not looking after your people.

At Royal Mail, we’ve been committed to mental health for many years and we recognise the link between positive mental, physical and financial health.  We have measures in place to support our staff mental health and wellbeing, so when Covid-19 struck, we were able to respond from a position of knowledge.

We knew that communications would be key to reassuring people during such uncertain times so we ensured our messages and our methods of communication were appropriate to all our different audiences in terms of age groups, demographics and cultures. It was time to be responsive and creative and to tailor our approach to the needs of employees, so we pivoted to more mobile communications like texts, WhatsApp and phone calls as well as using more traditional internal comms tools like intranet and email. We immediately set up a Coronavirus Helpline for staff, produced a Q&A document for managers to talk to employees about the situation and arranged access to essential information from personal technology.

The most common mental health challenge experienced by our staff was anxiety, largely created by the uncertainty and the sense of isolation caused by the lockdown. Without their usual access to friends, family and their colleagues, staff felt unanchored. Managers were very worried about keeping their staff safe, but had the benefit of working from home, while delivery people had difference concerns about being out on the ‘frontline’, particularly during the first wave of the pandemic.

Although we couldn’t provide answers to this uncertainly, we could call it out and we did our best to inform and reassure people with information which was evidence-based and which didn’t allow myths to take hold.

I think the pandemic has broken down the barriers between home life and work life and showed us that you don’t come to work as one person and go home as someone else.  As a consequence, we are much less likely to see someone just as their job title; we see each other for who we really are and this can strengthen relationships and diffuse tensions.

Moving forward, I would like to see mental health become far more integrated into an organisation’s health and safety programme and included at all stages of decision making, such as recruitment, appraisals and career development. The Institute of Directors has a very loud voice which it can use  to set the agenda around mental health in business. It would be good to see the IoD show the way by integrating mental health into existing IoD Director training and development programmes, rather treating mental health as a separate subject.

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