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Turning Good into Great


This conversation centered around how to provide leaders, managers and HR with an insight into the reality of what mental health and wellbeing is about in the workplace. It’s more than a campaign. And it’s more than having Mental Health First Aiders. It comes down to company culture which is shaped by leadership and facilitated by managers. Here we discuss the flaws in that plan when managers and MHFAs are left to fend for themselves, without adequate investment and support.


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The Current Picture

We know that poor mental health among employees costs UK employers £42-£45bn each year, the biggest cost being attributed to presenteeism. (Deloitte, 2020). Work-related mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety have increased, with as many as 7 in 10 employers seeing an increase in reported mental health conditions.


Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace Report (2021) found that as many as 80% of employees are not engaged, and that roughly 7 in 10 employees are struggling or suffering, rather than thriving. In order to address this, we need to know who these people are, and why they aren’t engaging.


I connect the dots across an organisation in terms of a workforce strategy that puts mental health and wellbeing at the centre of employee experience. When people work in an environment that fosters positive relationships based on trust, empowerment, recognition, psychological safety, and a sense of knowing they come first, they thrive, are productive and loyal.


If you choose to ignore the emotional needs of your workforce, you risk adding to the stats about job vacancies at a record high of 953,000 May to July 2021 (ONS). You also risk impacting in the wrong way on mental health and wellbeing, increasing absence and presenteeism.


The Role of Managers

We know that a significant contributor to poor employee experience is managers.


Data shows there is still a huge stigma around mental health and wellbeing at work, with 1 in 4 respondents to a Business in the Community survey fearing negative consequences of any disclosure, and only 44% feeling comfortable talking to their line manager. In SMEs this situation is even worse, with BITC finding that nearly 90% of employees with work-related poor mental health did not disclose their problems to either a line manager or HR. Whether that’s because these people were the cause of the problems or whether they aren’t perceived to be supportive – it is a massive problem!!


Much emphasis and high expectation is put on managers to look out for their teams – but reports by Investors in People suggest that 68% of those in a managerial role consider themselves accidental. There is little investment in their confidence or competence to know how to look after their team, particularly about how to have conversations that make a positive difference. A staggering 71% of employers in the UK say they don’t train their first time managers!


So we’re expecting people to know how to engage in a conversation about issues that many people find tricky and therefore naturally shy away from. And this can have devastating effects. When we think about the impact of not investing in managers to deal with issues that employees experience, we need to be considering the impact on the:

  • Lack of clarity about the role and associated insecurity
  • Poor work-life integration
  • Lack of support
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Misalignment with values
  • Poor recognition of what is going well, and the barriers to things being good


And when data, from Investors in People, highlights the following about employees under these managers experiencing:

  • Low mood 24% of the time
  • Stress 15%
  • Poor engagement 14%
  • Loneliness 13%


…we can see the need to start prioritising investment in people in a managerial role.  So, how are you supporting your managers to positively impact on these factors? Do your managers have:

  • Knowledge about who the individuals are that are struggling?
  • Empathy for unique perspectives that are different to their own?
  • Recognition of the impact of emotional arousal on performance?
  • Confidence talking with care and compassion to people who are not performing well?


I always encourage managers to have an understanding of the iceberg analogy too, knowing that we only get to see the tip – as much as people trust us with. Under the surface there is often a lot going on that others may be oblivious to.


Individuals Have a Responsibility Too

In addition to what is really going on under the surface, we know that the news and social media plays a big part in maintaining high emotional arousal. And there has been a rise in ‘leaveism’ where employees are unable to disconnect from work due to increased use of technology, contributing to burnout.


So put this on top of the challenges we know people experience day-to-day, that for many have been magnified by the pandemic, and we realise we have a problem. Being ignorant of the reality of emotional overwhelm is no longer an option.


I’ve provided much training for companies around mental health and wellbeing, work culture and how to maximise brain performance through our work practices, but it’s one thing attending a workshop, and another implementing the strategies. When the workforce is given an opportunity and support to prioritise their needs and put recommendations into practice, they thrive. But many still feel under pressure from management to ‘perform’ rather than plan for self-care. A different approach requires individuals to push back, maintain boundaries, feed back, and recognise when they are moving out of the optimum thriving and performance zone to do something about it.


We need to shift the experience for many employees from one of being a victim to one of taking control.


The bottom line… Leaders

Of course, much of this comes down to leaders who need to be creating the right culture to enable people to speak up. It’s no good asking people to open up unless what they share is always responded to, with sensitivity. And individuals will not participate in interventions to benefit their mental health and wellbeing unless the stigma is consciously tackled.


Employees need to experience psychological safety in their day to day living and breathing within work for them to be honest about the barriers they are experiencing to being their best.


The solution does not rely on training employees to increase their resilience! That can often be interpreted as making people stronger to cope with more. Instead, we need to pause, step back and look at the big picture. Rather than attributing individuals’ awkward, disengaged or un-well behaviours to them not being ‘tough’ enough to cope, or just being ‘difficult’, we need to reframe resistance as a normal human response to uncertainty. And there is much of that around in the current climate.


So leaders need to be aware of the emotional cycle of change, the impact on the brain, and how to support people through such a journey. They need to be planning  a company-wide approach that communicates the right messages and demonstrates consistent, positive behaviours that back-up what they say. And finally, leaders need to be engaging in a process that enables individuals experiencing difficulty, and requiring support, to highlight their needs safely.


Are you taking this seriously? Get in touch and I’ll help you think about what this means for your company.