#MHAW: Creating a culture for employees to flourish

TJ speaks to nine business leaders to understand the importance of tackling workplace mental health problems

1 in 6 people in the UK experience a mental health problem. As this inevitably impacts the modern workforce, business leaders must be conscious of their employees’ mental health. Mental Health Awareness Week is the perfect opportunity to assess what measures are in place to support their wellbeing, and what more could be done to help. 

To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, nine business leaders reveal their mental health strategies and how they are successfully implementing them. 

The importance of compassion
With mental health problems rising – exacerbated by the ever-increasing cost of living and adaptation back to ‘normal’ life after the pandemic – “it has never been more imperative for businesses to turn their attention to supporting employee mental health and wellbeing,” begins Jen Lawrence, Chief People Officer at Tax Systems. “Work is often cited as the biggest contributor to mental illness. In fact, last year work-related stress, depression, or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health in the UK.” 

Research by the CIPD found that 79% of HR leaders surveyed reported stress-related absences in their organisation in 2020-21 – this rises to a staggering 91% in organisations with 250+ employees,” adds Anne Tiedemann, SVP, People & Investor Relations at Glasswall. “This is a crisis that impacts all levels of a business, from those just starting out in entry-level roles, all the way up to the C-suite. And when employees in leadership positions are stressed, this has a knock-on effect on their team who may be on the receiving end of a burned-out manager.”

During challenging times, one of the most important things you can do is simply to let someone know that you are there for them no matter what

However, different things cause stress in different people and we all experience stress in different ways. As Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy EMEA at Exabeam explains, “there’s a fine line between ‘good’ stress and ‘bad’ stress that leads to burnout – and it’s not always easy to realise when you’ve moved from one to the other. Factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and geo-political tensions have definitely exacerbated stress levels for all of us, regardless of industry. In addition to this, the cybersecurity industry is also facing hiring challenges, insufficient tooling, long days and a growing skills shortage. More and more teams are being forced to do more, with less.”

“Leaders should ensure they keep channels of communication open and make an extra effort to check in with their teams on a regular basis. Ensuring people are taking breaks, getting a reasonable level of work/life balance, and being provided with the tools and support they need to successfully perform their roles are all vital to helping security teams’ mental health. One of the best ways this can be implemented is leading by example. Those in senior positions need to ensure they are demonstrating the importance of self-care – for example taking regular PTO and actually unplugging unless absolutely necessary.”

Taking action
It is essential that employers provide support to employees but knowing how to do so effectively can be difficult. As Simon Crawley-Trice, CEO of Six Degrees states, “there’s absolutely no ‘one size fits all’ approach here but we recognise that the best approach comes from offering a range of avenues for our people to engage with.”

There are a number of these avenues that employers can choose to explore when forming or enhancing their mental health strategy. “A key first step should be providing training for line managers, helping them identify the potential causes and signs of stress and effectively manage workloads to ensure that staff are not overwhelmed,” promotes Ian Rawlings, RVP EMEA at SumTotal. “Creating an inclusive and caring culture will also help employees feel more comfortable to reach out when they feel stressed.”

Richard Guy, Country Sales Manager UK & Ireland at Ergotron advocates for “a comfortable workspace that supports your posture and enables you to be efficient” and also raises the importance of “ensuring you’re taking the right breaks, and that problems with workload, healthcare or lifestyle factors aren’t weighing on your mind. After all, challenges present themselves in different ways, whether it’s stress in mind or body, and most of the time they are not always obvious to the rest of us.” 

Talk it out
A simple – but very effective – way that business leaders can support their employees’ mental wellbeing is by being open for discussions if they are struggling and creating an environment whereby they feel comfortable asking for help, should they require it. 

As Kathryn Barnes, Employment Counsel EMEA at Globalization Partners explains, “employers should create opportunities for open dialogues that enable workers to be forthright about their concerns or challenges, without fear of retribution, adopting a more person-centric approach to managing the health and wellbeing of their workforces. In doing so, they will have to rethink how they manage people and support them to reset the boundaries between home and work.”

“Central to this is creating an ongoing and compassionate dialogue with employees, whereby employers can better understand their needs and worries,” agrees Kathy Doherty, HR Director EMEA at Cubic Corporation. “No one size fits all. While crucially, employee wellbeing has risen up the corporate agenda, this needs to stay front of mind as organisations continue discussions about how best to return to office life.”

Terry Storrar, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK, provides tangible examples of how he promotes a positive workplace culture: “Some of the ways that we ensure this is by implementing regular check-ins with our staff, introducing workshops specifically designed to challenge negative behaviours and mindsets, and ensuring regular conversations are taking place with anyone who indicates they are struggling. During challenging times, one of the most important things you can do is simply to let someone know that you are there for them no matter what. Sometimes, this can make all the difference.”

Tax Systems’ Lawrence concludes: “Whatever it is, a vibrant working approach is there for everyone, regardless of justification. We all have lives, and we all experience moments of stress, so having time for the small things often makes a big difference. And by showing understanding and empathy, we have employees who are happy, motivated, and committed.“

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