Q –The Prime Minister has spoken of the need to tackle the “stigma” around mental health problems. What action do you think businesses need to take to achieve this?
A — The absolute number one priority is to make employees feel comfortable and safe to talk to people within their businesses about their mental health, and to ensure an encouraging and open environment within the workplace.
Q – And what are the most important steps a business needs to take towards encouraging such an environment?
A — First of all, businesses need to have an open culture. This can start with simple steps like talking about what they’re doing as an organisation on social sites, talking to undergraduates as they recruit them, making employees aware of what we are doing and by having a leadership team who are committed to change.
Businesses also need to promote messages within the business by using a network of allies to reach every level and part of our business across the UK. The allies themselves should be at all levels in the company.
It’s also really important to have the support in place to respond. This can be helped by having training available for line managers and front line HR teams so that they’re able to offer employee assistance programmes and counselling services within the business.
Q — Why does good mental health in the workplace matter to a business like Accenture?
Accenture is a ‘people’ organisation and our employees are among the brightest and the best. They join Accenture because they are looking for a career that will challenge and help them to grow. We rely on our people to deliver exceptional work to our clients and for this we need them to be well supported, both physically and mentally.
To maintain that we need to empower our employees to recognise and manage their own mental health and to understand their limits. It is important to stress that resilience is not constant, it varies.
We also need to equip line managers, leaders and teams to recognise and manage situations proactively. This is really important when teams are working under high pressure, as individuals are likely to be more vulnerable particularly if they are dealing with stressful situations outside of work such as problems at home; health, relationship, divorce and bereavement.
Q — How do you think attitudes to employee’s mental health problems changed for employers in the last 10 years?
A — The change in attitudes towards those employees with mental health problems has been huge.
Reflecting back on just the last two years for Accenture, over 700 people in our organisation from all levels have volunteered for a half day workshop and have become mental health allies. This is encouraging more people to talk about mental health and has significantly increased awareness that mental health conditions are actually more common than people may realise. At Accenture, we want to encourage and harness an environment where people who are suffering are more likely to speak out.
Q — As part of the government’s proposals, employers and organisations will be given additional training in supporting staff who need to take time off for mental health problems. How best can these steps be implemented?
It’s important to realise that taking time out from work can be very hard for people. The key is working together and being flexible about the approach to encouraging people to take time off. For instance, something that works in a manufacturing environment or a retail store would need to be different from that which might support a lawyer or client-facing organisation like Accenture.
We invest a lot of time in trying to understand best practice from all sectors so that we can learn. This is not a competition – it’s about helping people live their lives well.