HR & Management

Mind control: Many still believe those with mental health issues can just "snap out of it"

10 min read

12 September 2017

Don't assume to know the root cause behind employee mental health problems. And even if it's a "simple issue" like a lack of sleep, you shouldn't expect them to "snap out of it".

Mental health has become a key topic, with numerous business leaders hailing the benefits of a happy and healthy team. But while we are making leeway, more should be done to increase confidence in staff to talk about the issue.

That’s what we found out from Hugh Robertson, the CEO of independent creative agency RPM. He told Real Business that a key part of the company’s longevity, in a demanding marketing industry, has been its focus on the wellbeing of employees. 

But a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t exist – Robertson explains anyone conducting wellbeing surveys may be surprised by the highlighted problem areas. In the case of RPM, it was that staff weren’t sleeping enough. Find out what else he had to say below:

Do you believe mental health issues have become part and parcel with the marketing field?

It’s become increasingly common in most industries perhaps because of the intensification of work. Because of the increased awareness around mental health in society and improvements in the support that is available, however, people are more likely to come forward and own their mental health concerns. But, anecdotally and from my own experience, I would suggest there is a greater prevalence in creative industries, yes.

What do you believe are the benefits of investing in employees’ health and wellbeing?

Our people are arguably our business’ only asset – without them we don’t have a business. The happier and healthier they are, the better they will perform for us and our clients. Our reputation as an employer is also improved and more people want to work for us, for a longer period of time.

In what ways do you boost employee wellbeing?

Our culture and work environment is very important to us. We try to ensure employees adopt a healthy work-life balance and maintain perspective – and the 4pm finish on Fridays help. We also ensure there is a fair allocation of workload by monitoring utilisation. We ran a wellbeing survey recently and it showed us where we needed to focus attention.

For example, a recent initiative saw the introduction of mental health first aiders across the agency. These specially trained employees of various levels of seniority are available, confidentially, at any time. They are also trained to spot the signs of mental health problems in others as well as advising the organisation on mental health related matters and raising awareness generally.

We also understand how important performance management is in boosting employee wellbeing. Employees who know what is expected of them through rigorous objective setting combined with coaching conversations and feedback from their line manager, are simply less likely to experience stress and poor wellbeing at work.

Positive feedback and a sense of progress is vital. We are currently undergoing a programme to develop the coaching and feedback capability in the agency as we believe this will have a positive impact on wellbeing and in turn organisational performance.

If money was no object, what health and wellbeing perks/schemes would you advocate employers have in place?

There is so much you can do but even if money is no object it doesn’t make sense to go into overload. You need to find solutions that fit your company and employees’ needs. There are a raft of providers focusing on different aspects of physical and mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, and it’s becoming an ever more creative field.

There are apps that give you almost instant Skype access to a GP and a prescription delivery service, to personal trainers who work with individuals in their lunch hour. But if I was going to advocate one thing, it would be positive, supportive working relationships.

On the next page Robertson sings the praises of fresh air.

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.