1st March 2019


10 People You Should Know in the World of Wellbeing: Rob Stephenson from InsideOut

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Blog written by Kendelle Tekstar, Senior Product Manager for Acre Frameworks

Just shy of one year ago I attended an event that greatly influenced my interest in workplace wellbeing and now ever-growing passion for improving how we address mental health at work. If you haven’t heard of Minds@Work I highly encourage you to explore what this community has to offer… It’s a network of people across a range of industries and disciplines that believe in creating happier and mentally healthier workplaces where people genuinely feel they can ask for help if they are experiencing issues related to mental health.

One speaker in particular that evening showed vulnerability and courage that I’ve found is hard to come by in my ‘work life’… Someone who not only spoke openly about his experience being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, but was willing to talk about the fact that it’s an ongoing journey for him.

When I think about the work Rob Stephenson does, a quote from Brené Brown comes to mind:

Rob is amongst an emerging group of senior professionals who are using the power of storytelling to break down stigma related to mental health. He comments:

“Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools to help break stigma. Every keynote talk that I deliver, results in a ripple effect of other people sharing their story. Every leader who speaks out on mental ill-health in their business creates this impact too. Storytelling is really important.

I was inspired by Geoff McDonald to be open about my own experiences of living and working with bipolar disorder. The inspiration for InsideOut came during Legal & General’s ‘Not a Red Card Forum‘ in October 2017. After an uplifting day of hearing people share their stories on stage and debating mental ill-health in the workplace, one of the big takeaways delivered by CEO, Nigel Wilson, was that ‘we do not have enough senior leaders from our workplaces being open about their experiences of mental ill-health’. I used to work with the amazing Suki Sandhu OBE, who is behind the OUTstanding List for LGBT and thought that it would be great if we could apply this concept to mental ill-health. I had a meeting with Suki who was very generous in sharing how they go about their list, but he suggested that I would find it very hard to get the role models. I had a similar chat with Karen Mattison OBE of the Power Part Time List. I took all of this on board but thought I would give it a go and here we are”.

A bit more about Rob?

“I wear quite a few hats in the mental health and wellbeing space. See here for more detail on my various roles. It is a busy time for me, I am really excited to be closing my long-list of senior leader role models for my InsideOut Leaderboard initiative. I have been working on this for over a year so it is great to see this come to life. We have 40 role models on the long-list and will be publishing in March. It will be great to see the impact that this initiative then has.

I have a regular flow of speaking engagements on platforms ranging from team away days, an NHS conference, industry panel events. I love doing these gigs as they are a direct way of reaching people with my personal story and inspiring change. Similarly, I am arranging to take my MindCycle Events initiative into workplaces at the moment, providing a non-threatening way of getting people to open up about mental health.

I would say that these activities are all about helping break stigma of mental ill-health which is really important. I am also very passionate about inspiring people to think about the fact that we are all have mental health and we can all improve it. I am therefore involved in a number of initiatives in the preventative space. A really exciting project is a startup called BetterSpace where I believe that we can help stimulate investment in preventative mental wellbeing solutions by generating ROI data and gifting this to the market. I am also helping to lobby government to change the way these solutions are taxed as we believe that they should be treated a little like the cycle to work scheme.

Along these lines, I am also helping to get The Performance Club off the ground. This is a really innovative concept that looks at a programme of events that can help enhance the performance of all by looking at how we proactively manage and understand our mental wellbeing.

It is very busy but exciting times. It has been an amazing year working on InsideOut as I have shared stories of mental ill health with a bunch of amazing senior role models from our workplaces. Each and every one of those stories is a privilege to hear and every meeting with a new role model is both uplifting and therapeutic. I am very fortunate to have found this purpose”.

Since Rob speaks to a lot of senior leaders about openly discussing mental ill-health, I asked him to comment on the key insights he has taken away from these engagements:

“Let me be clear in this, every person who speaks out about mental ill-health is a role model who is contributing to breaking stigma. This is regardless of level. However, when a senior leader opens up, then it gives people in that workplace permission to do the same and seek the help when they need it. The other crucial thing that can then happen after a senior leader champions the mental health agenda is that we get culture change. This has to be driven from the top. Some of the most powerful case studies I have from the InsideOut Role Models are when this has occurred and the knock-on effect is that the culture of the business is then transformed to allows all employees to look after their wellbeing”.

And what have been the most challenging and rewarding parts of widely sharing his personal experience with Bipolar Disorder for Rob?

“The most challenging part was actually getting started. I was diagnosed when I was 30 and managed my condition under the radar for 15 years. Self-stigma is the most powerful stigma that we can experience. Sharing my story felt awkward at first, but now it is as natural as introducing myself.

The most rewarding part is the impact that sharing the story can have in terms of helping other people seek help but contributing to the change in our workplace cultures. This is why what I do is a real privilege”.

I’d now like to dedicate some time to exploring what Rob has learnt through his advocacy and consultancy work regarding what businesses can do to support people experiencing issues related to mental health.

Rob believes the most meaningful actions a company can take to support people when they experience mental ill-health are:

“1. Create a culture where it is okay to experience mental ill-health (role models, networks, mental health champions, etc.)
2. Train line managers to be able to better support people who are experiencing these challenges
3. Train up mental health first aiders, but support these people with regular supervision from clinically trained professionals
4. Make sure that there are a suite of benefits that employees can access to seek help for mental ill-health challenges that are at least on a par with benefits for physical health
5. Treat people like Humans rather than Resources”

And what are his predictions for the mental health and wellbeing agenda for 2019?

“1. An increased focus on the preventative mental wellbeing space

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock has preventative healthcare a priority:

‘I have no doubt that, if we get prevention right, it holds the key to longer, healthier, happier lives and a sustainable, high quality health and care system guaranteed for many generations to come’.

Further reading can be found here.

The work of Keyes and Huppert tell us that in any given population, only about 17% will be flourishing at any given time.

This means that one of the biggest opportunities we have as a society is to focus on proactively managing our mental wellbeing. I think that we will see the more enlightened workplaces, who have already done great work in smashing stigma, look to allocate more resource into this area. The challenge they will have to overcome is that mental wellbeing solutions are highly personal, so it is difficult for organisations to make a call on what works for whom. I am looking forward to helping businesses navigate this challenge.


2. Movement towards legislation in relation to mental health first aiders and the 1974 Health and Safety Act.

This post from MadWorld Forum talks through this. Personally, I am a fan of Mental Health First Aiders as an invaluable first port of call for people who are experience a mental ill-health issue in the workplace. I would hope to see much better practice in supporting and supervising MHFA trained people. I know that Legal & General have in-house clinicians who provide this service and that Deloitte use an outsourced provider to give First Aiders the support they require.

I am starting to have a lot of conversations with clients who are looking to find a solution to this issue.

3. A tipping point in relation to senior leaders sharing being open about their lived experience.

Naturally, I am personally very excited about this one. It is my belief that we will see the InsideOut List grow significantly in its second year. I also expect us to see a wider cross section of our workplaces represented including MPs, Ministers, Education Leaders, Executive Chefs and many more.

At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, The Duke of Cambridge eloquently gave a call to action to our business leaders:

‘I’d love to see more CEOs and those in positions of leadership come out and talk about their mental health… I’ve met a number of CEOs who’ve been through a mental health battle, who’ve had very severe mental health issues […] yet they’re still CEO of a major company… That should be the positive story that comes out of it’.

See here for a video clip of The Duke speaking on this issue”.

Now to bring this article to a close, I’d like to extend a thank to you, Rob, for making the world a little braver…

‘BRAVERY IS CONTAGIOUS. EVERY TIME WE CHOOSE COURAGE WE MAKE EVERYONE AROUND US A LITTLE BETTER AND THE WORLD A LITTLE BRAVER’. – Brené Brown

And to my readers, maybe you’re next to share your story?