It’s very easy to say you care about the mental health and wellbeing of your employees. Actions are louder than words, but they’re also messier. Mental health isn’t black and white, well or unwell. Especially where it relates to stress and anxiety, there are unhealthy situations many of us regularly tolerate, at least until we’re no longer able to.
As leaders, the focus is usually on creating an environment where people feel they don’t have to tolerate stress and can articulate how they are feeling. Leaders usually do this by telling people it’s okay to talk about their problems and that they’ll listen. The difficulty is in persuading them you mean it.
"To take the stigma out of mental health, you need your leaders to talk about it openly, including talking about themselves and how they feel," says Josh Krichefski, CEO of MediaCom UK, a WPP-owned media agency with 1,500 staff across the country.
He points to the example of Lloyds CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio, who spent nine days at a specialist clinic in 2017 after stress-related insomnia brought him to the verge of a breakdown. "That’s just the best example of role modelling," says Krichefski, who says he tries to talk very openly about how he’s feeling 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 or prove their leadership credentials, as I have at times in my career without even realising it."
Krichefski has also imposed an email ban on weekends and after 7pm, in an attempt to stave off the always-on culture.
"It came after I introduced our flexible working programme, aimed at giving people hours that best suit what they want to do in their life outside of work that make them happy. But it’s important to recognise, if you’re someone who leaves the office early to do school pickups and then does emails at 7pm, that it’s not fair to expect your other colleagues to do their emails at 7pm as well."
While he says the intent has gone down well, Krichefski does acknowledge not everyone has taken to the rule with the same enthusiasm. It’s a challenge, but he says he doesn’t want to enforce it too rigorously, because that might disempower people. "It’s a challenge we’re working on, but overall we’re pretty good at it."
For more information
A happy leader is a productive leader, argues this piece. Here are some pointers for managing mental health at work, or if you’re interested in empowerment there’s this case study from furniture manufacturer Steelcase.
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