How would you advise SME bosses address staff mental health?
Try and find out what staff think rather than trying to figure it out yourself. Get your benchmark if you like. There are several surveying tools that do this. You might be surprised with the outcomes and where you thought you need to invest resources might not be the area that gets you the results. For example, from our own survey we found a big issue for our staff is getting enough sleep!
You can take the view that this is nothing to do with you as an employer, but the reality is people coming into work exhausted is not conducive to high performing teams. So, we are going to work with our first aiders to come up with ways to help address this. I don’t know the answer to this one yet, but happy to let you know when we do!
More generally, having an open dialogue can be a big first step in allowing employees to feel their needs matter and that they feel comfortable to bring any issues they may be having forward.
Do you believe that mental health as a taboo subject persists?
Yes, but less so now. I do think we evaluate the mental health of others through our own lens, and we can be dismissive. Mental health at work is such as wide remit it’s not just stress, anxiety and depression, and resultant absence, it’s also the alcohol and drug dependence used as a coping mechanism.
Is it often the case that people don’t realise what their own mental health situation is?
Absolutely, I think educating people on how to recognise their own symptoms is a huge step in the right direction. We can do this by raising awareness generally in society and breaking the taboos, which we are definitely starting to do.
Often the issues stem from the individual’s personal life and are compounded by work, rather than directly caused by it, so I would also add that individual performance problems need to be explored from a wider mental health perspective as well.
What do you think can be done to improve understanding of mental health illnesses?
More conversations and press coverage. It needs to become the norm to talk about, only then we people feel able to manage it and seek help.
What is the most common misconception?
That it’s not an actual health issue, so many people still see mental health issues such as depression as something made up or easily fixed by just “snapping out of it”.
Do you think companies need to find more innovative means to tackle the issue?
I think the more that can be done the better, and being open minded in terms of ideas and opening up a dialogue will go a long way from where we are right now. You can do this simply by talking to employees and understanding their thoughts on mental health in your organisation, and also meeting with different health and wellbeing providers to get ideas.
How do you unwind after a tough week?
It’s a bit of a cliché but fresh air helps and feeling connected to this mad, brilliant world. Oh, and cooking for a load of guests, that focusses the mind and is hugely rewarding. I have always intended to take up mindfulness or meditation, but never got around to it!
Do you have any rituals to improve your own mental health?
No single solution or silver bullet, but mostly it involves talking to others, that helps you get a sense of perspective and context, especially when talking to my 11 year old son or my sister who is an A&E doctor.