A look-back at Mental Health Awareness week

Sarah Piddington

BY: Sarah Piddington / 15th May

Last week in the UK it was Mental Health Awareness Week. MHAW holds an extremely important place on the calendar, especially when you consider the rate at which mental health issues are increasing.

Let’s discuss 5 of the major themes that came out of MHAW:

First: It’s okay to talk

  • Cultural change is key. When people feel comfortable speaking to their workmates or their manager about how they’re feeling, if they’re not coping etc, the problems can be dealt with before they become more serious
  • If the leadership of an organisation is seen to take the lead, everyone else will most likely follow and the culture of an organisation can develop – in the right direction
  • As a manager, you want to feel that you can have a mental health conversation with your people – not shelve it until you have to do something about it because the person concerned has broken down

Second: Organisational culture needs to encourage managers to spend more time with their people

  • If the emphasis is solely around achieving evermore challenging sales targets, for example, how do you get time to focus on other matters, especially in terms of looking after your people?
  • Managers need to spend quality time with their people in order to build a relationship in which their people feel confident enough to open up and talk. That only happens in an environment of trust. And who trusts a manager they don’t really know because they rarely get any time with them?

Third: Productivity is clearly linked to wellbeing within an organisation

  • Healthy staff = healthy numbers
  • The better an organisation looks after the wellbeing and mental health of their people, the more their people will engage. Increased engagement results in increased productivity. That’s a true win-win!

Fourth: Organisational issues around personal and team resilience are extremely common

  • Almost every organisation we work with experiences a reduction in engagement and productivity because their people – and their teams – are not resilient enough to ably cope with the every day pressures of life and work
  • The more people are supported by their organisation, the better their wellbeing and mental health, and in turn, the more resilient they become
  • In terms of team resilience, a strong leader spends time with their team, ensures that the team understands their mission and vision, and supports their people by being there for them

Fifth: Current line management competence is inadequate

  • This is absolutely clear from my recent experience when I was training an SME in London. The managers wanted to support their people, but several things prevented them from being able to do so
  • They didn’t feel comfortable having a conversation about it with their people as they’ve had no education on how to do so
  • They didn’t know where to go for help – “Is this my responsibility or HR’s?”
  • They didn’t know where to look for information – “Can the EAP support me? I can’t find anything in the HR manual or on the intranet.”
  • Line managers need basic, specialist training in order to understand mental health, and to be comfortable talking to their people and supporting them
  • Equipping managers with the skills they need to lead, manage and support their people is essential. They need a bigger toolkit!

In my experience, many of the above things are being neglected or misunderstood because leaders don’t see the business case for change.

Part of the problem is how many organisations measure staff engagement. People tend to measure failure – or success – by spouting sickness absence figures, staff turnover rates etc, in isolation. While it’s important to measure these things, there are many other factors which need to be taken into account and measured to fully understand what’s really going on. Adopting a more intentional and proactive stance in this area is where organisations begin very quickly to see the benefits of looking after their people better.

Sarah Piddington

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