Mental health at work is often talked about in broad terms but can mean different things for different organisations.
To ensure we create a safe and inclusive environment as we grow, we enlisted Bianca Jones at EDP Training. Bianca undertook separate sessions across the GR team, including a special workshop with our SLT.
|The results were profound, helping us become more aware and put better structures in place for people to feel psychologically safe.|
Here, our Managing Partner Jamie Page spoke with Bianca to look at the wider issue of how to improve mental health at work.
Jamie Page (JP): Thank you Bianca for undertaking the training, everyone found it incredibly useful and insightful. How did you personally come into this field and why?
Bianca Jones (BJ): I was a trainer and facilitator in retail and have always been interested in supporting people into better understanding of their own capabilities. After I experienced postnatal depression, I became interested in mental health. Going through something like that means you ask yourself, what can I contribute to the world that is my passion and makes me happy? I went through various training programmes and became a facilitator with Mental Health First Aid England. Now, running EDP Training this has all come together. When I look back at my lowest points personally, I could not even make a cup of tea. Having that lived experience gives me a huge amount of motivation to create a more positive mental health community for all.
JP: What are the main areas you see that cause concern in workplaces currently and can you pinpoint any of the key drivers?
BJ: The pandemic shifted things considerably as the individual experience became a much more obvious and important part of the whole organisation. I personally don’t think we have recovered as a society from the impact of that trauma. A lack of connection and isolation are still a big problem for people and working online causes more problems than we like to admit. Other tipping points for people are what you would expect, such as high workloads and not being able to manage conflict, for example, are both major drivers of anxiety and stress. But no matter what the problems are, it’s not having open discussions around mental wellbeing that means problems are not dealt with until they reach crisis point. This is not good for employees, leaders or the business itself and then dealing with it is a case of ‘too little. too late’.
JP: Without wishing to stereotype, are there certain groups in organisations that are more likely to suffer from specific mental health issues – for example, are leaders more likely to reach burnout?
BJ: Leaders deal with a huge amount of often unseen pressure, which is often not something they have been trained for or are given the tools to manage. Many senior people in business have been promoted from doing a specific job well – but that does not necessarily make them good people managers. There is an unspoken rule that anyone in a position of power must not show ‘weakness’ and mental health still has that stigma at this level of business, which can cause serious problems. Organisations who do not understand how to support colleagues from marginalised communities will often see high levels of stress. Afterall, social pressures in people’s lives does not just magically stop when they enter the workplace.
JP: What can be done to catch these issues sooner? How can businesses step up to the plate without becoming counsellors?
BJ: There continues to be not enough recognition at senior leadership level about the benefits of dealing with mental health at work more openly. However, if we don’t talk about it, we cannot create beneficial culture change. Employees want to be able to turn to their boss and have the open conversations. There is now empirical evidence that when people feel psychologically safe, they perform at the high levels demanded of them. This makes it business critical and even simple things, like celebrating World Mental Health Day, or having an open door for people to discuss their issues, can start to change how people feel at work. Even better is if senior leaders share their own insight for their own experience. When this has happened, we have seen organisations go on very powerful journeys, resulting in growth and organisational development.
JP: We are on a growth journey and want to ensure we stay present and create safe spaces at GR. What were the main areas of feedback from our team?
BJ: Working with the Granger Reis team was fantastic. Over two sessions we had a hugely positive and meaningful experience where people really opened up and were able to share some deeper personal insights and experiences and also look at the stressors and triggers that the working environment can cause. As you would expect in a rapidly expanding global executive search business – there is a lot to do! This can be overwhelming and make time management challenging. There was a lot of appreciation for the business understanding this and putting foundational elements and practically helpful tools in place to support their own personal experiences as well as developing team dynamics and wider cultural change.
JP: What are your core pieces of advice for leaders and managers when supporting employees through specifically difficult periods?
BJ: Recognise the importance of being a role model. This is the key takeaway as your employees need to see what good looks like. If your senior leadership team cannot be brave and talk about the looking after mental health and wellbeing, then it will not be considered an important aspect of their own progression. We know now that younger employees are looking at work in different ways and expect much higher responsiveness around mental health and wellbeing in general. They are not afraid to talk about it and expect employers to create safe spaces for this to be considered and explored. Remember taking the first step into talking about this is the hardest one and change takes time – but you will get the best out of your people, which should ideally be the goal of all who seek to build a great business.