At our recent Attune Summit I was incredibly excited to join a session with actress and mental health ambassador, Ruby Wax, during which she spoke about the increasing prevalence of being ‘frazzled’ – a state of being in constant stress, where the nervous system is consistently overloaded with cortisol and adrenaline.
As many of us will already be aware, some stress is good – it’s a biological imperative that keeps us safe and gets us out of bed in the morning! But when this stress becomes regular or sustained – obsessing over the ‘should/could/would’ it becomes unhealthy. Undoubtedly the pandemic has contributed to feelings of overload for many people.
This has become such a common problem that currently 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, with 1 in 6 people reporting a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week.
When it comes to the workplace a frazzled person will, understandably, find it difficult to focus on the job in hand, or perform to the best of their ability. In short, you are not going to get the best out of them. And the likelihood is that they will eventually burn out. Unsurprisingly, mental health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the workplace, with a staggering 70 million work days lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK alone – costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.
Clearly this is not a problem that can be ignored. And while mental health issues can be triggered by lots of factors, some work related, some not, as employers we have the ability to make matters worse, and continue to add to the overload, or to provide a space where individuals feel connected, valued, and engaged.
Supporting employees in a manner that supports mental wellness is not just about a monthly wellbeing check in or team building sessions. It means making human connections a priority and creating a space where employees feel safe and empowered to share their concerns and perspectives.
As leaders we should be setting an example of prioritising our own mental wellbeing and also being aware of that of our colleagues. So how can businesses help to create this culture of positive mental health management?
– We are social creatures by nature. We need human connections. This has become even more difficult over the past year with many more employees working remotely, but creating spaces where people can work and engage as a team – be it virtually or physically, should be a priority for all businesses.
– Promote a culture where respectful conflict is accepted and encouraged. Creating a safe space for employees to share their views and engage in healthy disagreements will not only have mental health benefits, but will also help to create a breeding ground for new business ideas.
– Make communications personal. All of us have a need to feel valued and connected, and ensuring that your communications meet employees where they are, and provide them with the information and resources to do their job to the best of their ability, regardless of role, shift pattern, or locations, will go a long way to fostering this.
When you look at the economic cost of mental illness on business, it stands to reason that creating a work environment that supports and encourages mental health is good for business. But it doesn’t end there. During her session, Ruby made an interesting point about the growth of ‘conscious capitalism’, that is – putting purpose in front of profit.
When we look at the future of our workforce, the young people now joining the ranks, this is what they are looking for. Gone are the days when it’s simply about climbing the career ladder at any cost. Many people are now realising they also need a sense of purpose, a desire to improve the world we live in, and are seeking out employers that provide an opportunity to feel like they are making a difference, regardless of how ‘corporate’ an environment it may be. Employers that offer this will be the ones attracting, and retaining, the top talent – which has an impact across the whole business. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review companies incorporating conscious capitalism perform 10 times better than their peers.
A business is built on its employees. Take care of them. Help them to be the best, and happiest, they can be, and the benefits will be huge. As Ruby put it – “as we go forward it will become less survival of the fittest and more survival of the wisest. And the wisest leaders will be the ones that put their people first.”