Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s I don’t think many companies were too enlightened when it came to mental health issues. In fact, to discuss it was often seen as a sign of weakness.
I can remember a very senior person I worked with at another company who had a nervous breakdown in the ‘90s and it just wasn’t talked about. It was suddenly “oh John (not his real name) is off for a while”.
When the full story came out it was clear he’d had a very serious breakdown but nobody wanted to talk about it.
Thankfully, I believe that kind of attitude has now started to change. I genuinely believe that businesses are much more accepting now if a staff member needs time off with stress or depression and there would be much more support for them while they were away from the office and on their return.
But there is more work to be done. My company carried out some research towards the end of last year and some of the results were quite worrying.
More than 50% of UK employees believed that being open about a common mental health problem would damage their career prospects. We also found that 4 in 10 workers have experienced stress, anxiety or depression and not told their employer.
This really shows that while businesses are doing more to support the mental wellbeing of the workforce, employees are still very wary of being open about any problems they may be having.
Most of us wouldn’t think twice about telling our manager or colleagues that we’d broken our leg and need some time off. We need to get to a place where a mental health issue is treated in the same manner.
Looking after the mental wellbeing of our employees isn’t just something we feel obliged to do – it’s critical to the business. The company is at greater risk if we have a very stressed workforce. It’s important to us to have people who are comfortable in coming to work.
Employee wellbeing, how we manage and motivate employees and the workplace environment we give them are all really important.
And it’s not just me, as the mental health champion, who is concerned about it. The subject is also discussed by our Group Executive Committee (leadership team at Friends Life).
And attitudes are changing in all kinds of businesses. I think the message is getting through that the investment you make in your staff does get repaid. If your brand stands for anything, particularly a customer-facing brand, you need a very consistent message both of how you treat your staff and how you treat your customers. I think it’s really important to live the brand values through our staff and mental health wellbeing is a big part of that.
I’ve been fortunate enough to not have experienced a mental health problem first-hand, but there have been times in my career when I’ve come close to thinking “can I cope?” But I’ve had some very good bosses who I’ve been able to share my concerns with about workload as well as managing my work/life balance.
That’s why I supported ‘Time to Talk Day’ on 5th February. This was a great opportunity to remind people of what support is available to them in the workplace, but it should not stop with just one day. A ‘Time to Talk’ could be with a line manager, it could be with a friend, it could be with a partner. But it’s worth taking the time to think about just how mentally resilient you are.