How would you advise SME bosses to address staff mental health? Invest in your emotional intelligence and take time to understand where and why there is a problem. SMEs normally have a finger on the pulse as it’s easier to know staff individually. What has helped me personally in these environments, is understanding different personality types, recognising that people are different and require different approaches to supporting them. Also, make sure to be sympathetic about issues, encouraging employees to open up if you don’t know what’s happening, you can’t help. Do you believe that mental health as a taboo subject persists? Yes, though things are starting to open up. With more people suing for burnout and the rise in recent years of employees even committing suicide, bosses are starting to realise their duty of care. But the conversation is still not commonplace. It is also important to remember there are many aspects to mental health problems that need understanding. All too often, mental health is perceived as a negative but in fact it can have positive aspects and provide people with particular talents. There is still a long way to go but attitudes are moving forward. How important is emphasising support to staff In the last decade, there has been a sense that companies have come first, at the expense of everything else but you can’t drive your workforce through fear staff need to feel they are valued. For many employers staff is their biggest cost they are an asset and should be the number one priority. Is it often the case that people don’t realise what their own mental health situation is? The issue with mental health problems is that people can be embarrassed. It is not so much the case that they aren?t aware of the problem, but more not knowing what to do about it or how to handle it. If they do have an issue, they may feel they have to soldier on to keep their boss happy, not knowing who to turn to or what to do. This can have a serious impact. What do you think can be done to improve understanding of mental health illnesses? Start at the top. Managers and directors set an example for the rest of the company to follow, so management education is vital. Far more education is needed about what you should and shouldn?t do, how to spot employees suffering with mental health problems and to realise the impact you can have and that you can actually help. What is the most common misconception? Management are far more responsible for workplace stress than they think they are. Traditionally, you had to fight your way to the top if you didn?t think you were doing well, you were pushed to the side. This can create a culture of competition where others think “I have had to put up with a lot more than you deal with it? A bit of competitive pressure can be good but this is very different to stress. In a “dog eat dog” culture, there can be a reluctance to talk about mental health issues, because it can quite wrongly be seen as weakness. In fact, one in six people experience mental health issues at some stage in their lives, and leaving these hidden can simply make them worse. Do you have any rituals to improve your mental health? Physical activity helps me reduce stress and meditation plays a role too. The best help for me is pursuing a variety of different activities. Creating my own charity red Trouser Day, I have actually found cathartic. Through fundraising I am doing something I wouldn?t normally do and it is also an interesting challenge to mobilise teams to do something voluntarily. I get a real sense of satisfaction from helping others and this has helped me through a life-threatening condition helping is heartening. So, my top tips do exercise, have fun and give back!
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