Agendas such as Diversity & Inclusion, Engagement and Wellbeing (all of which have mental health at their foundation) are important in most organisation’s strategies – but the reality is that they are rarely considered urgent, certainly when up against the commercial performance agendas. Managing day to day delivery of business activities for clients in an increasingly complex global workplace leads to these topics regularly moving down a few places on even the most people focussed leaders’ priority lists.
That’s human and understandable. We are hard wired to deal with the most urgent threats in order to survive. The problem with this is, not least as external pressures ramp up and muscle their way to the front of the priority queue (the pandemic being an obvious case in point), that mental health and wellbeing support is needed now more than ever. Good leaders know this already and most organisations have the fundamental supports in place (an Employee Assistance Programme offering counselling sessions and / or Mental Health First Aiders for example). These organisations are also very likely to be diligent in using awareness days such as the World Mental Health Day (10th October) to plan supporting communications and activities.
These supports are of course important, and I’d never knock them. Using awareness days in this way is a fabulous way to spotlight the relevant agenda and breathe new life into it for a time. To get people talking and learning and to remind people of their importance. Indeed, at CHAMPS, we wholeheartedly support them and often advocate their use in this way. But they can’t be considered in isolation – for true success in creating a culture that supports wellbeing they need to be part of a much bigger, all-encompassing and holistic approach and serve as a spearhead for a broader plan of activity.
Creating that kind of shift is often a more daunting prospect – it takes continued focus and personal effort to transform individual behaviour and through it the day-to-day employee experience.
Look at it this way, if you discover that colleagues are using your new staff counselling services due to stress in the workplace, bullying or other cultural problems, you’re really not adding a benefit, you’re simply responding to a problem that the workplace is the root cause of. Imagine the money you could save and staff satisfaction you could improve if this root cause was addressed.
But where to even start? To me, the obvious place to start is at the top. And there are several big reasons for this. Firstly, while many organisations like to believe that they have a flat structure, it is evident that in many cases the tone is set by the senior team. If the CEO sits in an office until 8pm at night, their direct reports likely feel obliged to follow, and so on.
Another reason for starting at the top is, quite simply, permission. Permission to invest time and money in wellbeing. And permission to see it as a priority. Often, an individual’s objectives flow down from the top of the business. They link to the core aims of an organisation, so this needs to be set at an organisation-wide level.
This might involve everybody having a role to play in demonstrating their commitment to a healthy workplace. Alternatively, it might involve simply having a wellbeing question or check-in on a monthly one-to-one form and appraisal process. However, while monitoring and encouraging people to talk openly about any struggles they are facing is a good thing, it needs to be responded to. Are there any trends? Are any teams struggling more with stress or a difficult working environment than others? How can this be addressed?
It is also good to build capability and confidence across the organisation to proactively support people who might be struggling. Mental health first aid training is an obvious choice for larger organisations, to match the numbers of those qualified in general first aid. More impactful still in my opinion is creating capability amongst those in line manager roles to spot the early signs and have the confidence to step in and support their team members to thrive again. This group has the opportunity to connect to the entire employee population on a more regular basis and will also be best placed to spot the early signs than first aiders. The added bonus is that they will develop skills which are useful in coaching, performance management and client relationship management.
I’d therefore urge business leaders to use Mental Health awareness days, such as World Mental Health Day, not just as an opportunity to put wellbeing in the spotlight for a moment but as a springboard – the beginning of a longer journey. Use the day to lay out your plans to support colleague mental health on an ongoing basis. Use it to make a commitment.
We all have mental health and we all have it every single day of the year.
To find out more about how CHAMPS can help with leadership coaching, cultural shifts and creating capability to support people at work to thrive, email firstname.lastname@example.org