Mind control: Mental health starts with an honest and open office culture

How would you advise SME bosses to address staff mental health?

I think it’s got to be about honesty. Whether you’re managing a very small, very new team, or a much larger, more established business, employee wellbeing has to be at the forefront of your plans. It’s important to remember anyone could be affected by mental health, and to be sensitive to that at all times.

My advice would be to work hard on that type of culture and lead by example. Being available to your direct reports when they need support will encourage them to do the same with their direct reports.

I’d also suggest you consider someone like an HR consultant or a person who can guide you on your policies and procedures; we’ve found our HR consultant to be invaluable, from writing our employee handbook to handling challenging situations in the most appropriate way.

Do you believe that mental health as a taboo subject persists?

I think it’s something that’s definitely come a long way. You hear about mental health in the news quite a bit these days, especially in light of celebrities speaking out (only this week, we’ve had another case) and it gets people thinking and talking about it.

We all want to come across as professional in our place of work, and raising mental health concerns can seem counterproductive to that. I’d say it’s more likely that the individual makes the choice not to share their problems for their own personal reasons, rather than it being seen as a taboo subject.

Is it often the case that people don’t realise what their own mental health situation is?

To be honest, this isn’t really my area of expertise! All I can say, as a business owner and a manager of people, is that you’ve got to respect individual differences. Even if someone is struggling with their own mental health situation, there’s no one size fits all approach to helping them. The only thing you can do is be open and available to them.

What do you think can be done to improve understanding of mental health illnesses?

As business leaders, we certainly play a role in this. We need to be open to the fact that people do suffer and ensure we have the policies and support networks in place to deal with this appropriately and on a person by person basis. This way, we can talk about mental health and raise awareness.

What is the most common misconception?

I haven’t experienced this myself but I can see how people might think their mental health situation would affect things like their employability. Speaking from my own personal experience, we’d never judge anyone based on their mental health, just as we wouldn’t their physical health.

How do you unwind after a tough week?

Usually socialising with my friends, many of whom are actually people from work! I also enjoy watching movies and playing squash – though as a business owner, spare time is sparse these days!

Do you have any rituals to improve your mental health?

I wouldn’t say rituals, but I am aware of my own mental state and do my best to not be working all the time. I believe it’s important to take time away from work, whether that’s a full on holiday or just going out for lunch with guys from the office and getting away from the screen. Most of the time, I will go out for a walk during the day, just to clear my head.

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