We need leaders to talk about mental health

Stigma keeps many people from admitting to problems in the workplace.

by Natasha Abramson
Last Updated: 10 Oct 2019
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Food for thought

Employee wellbeing is a serious business issue. One in six people experience a mental illness at work, affecting productivity, performance and absenteeism. 

In an international study by remote healthcare company Teladoc Health, 44 per cent of respondents said they had missed work because of their mental health, while 38 per cent said their mental health had affected their work performance. 

Crucially, 43 per cent stated that stigma was a reason not to confide in anybody in the office about their mental health.

"The workplace has been left behind" in the conversation about mental health, says Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind. "One in ten adults believes that someone with a mental health problem doesn’t have the same rights as everyone else."

Mamo says the use of technology and an ‘always on’ culture has blurred the lines between work and other areas of life. She also questions whether remote working - despite being beneficial for work-life balance in many respects - means that people are cut off from the managerial and peer support that would enable them to discuss matters that were affecting them, rather than trying to deal with it themselves.

The most important thing a business can do to address mental health problems in the workplace is to normalise the conversation about it, creating a culture where people can be open with what they are dealing with. 

"We need people from all walks of life, in all stages of their careers," to talk about their experience with mental health, Mamo says, giving the example of former Deloitte partner John Binns, who has spoken out about his experience with mental health, becoming a mental health adviser and receiving an MBE for his work in field. 

Lloyds CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio is another high profile example, having spent nine days at a specialist clinic in 2017 after stress-related insomnia brought him to the verge of a breakdown.

Speaking to Management Today about creating more supportive work cultures earlier this year, MediaCom UK CEO Josh Krichefski said Horta-Osorio was a great example of a role model because he talked so openly about his feelings with both his senior leadership team and the rest of the organisation.

"It’s the only way we can create a culture that isn’t toxic and doesn’t make people feel they have to behave a certain way to get ahead," said Krichefski. 


Here are four features of a healthy workplace. If you look around you, is this what you see? And if not, do you have the power to change it?

Proactive

Making it an objective to promote staff wellbeing before problems emerge.

Supportive

Helping employees maintain their work-life balance. 

Reactive

Being vigilant and acting swiftly to make sure ensuring struggling employees are not left behind.

Reflective

Taking a step back to identify what might be driving poor mental health in the workplace, so it can deal with it.

Image credit: Joe Giddens - WPA Pool/Getty Images

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