Work is mental so why do firms ignore an obvious competitive advantage?
It is the last great taboo. People now share their intimate experiences online with total strangers, we talk to each other about our physical illnesses and the world is beginning to recognise some of the most entrenched social injustices. However, challenges to mental health, counselling support and recognition of mental difficulties are still avoided at all cost. We are facing into a tsunami of mental health and anxiety challenges following the Covid pandemic.
It is counterproductive not to recognise when anxiety levels for employees are rising. Employees find it very difficult to raise it themselves. No one wants to feel that they are "different". Yet, mental health is as important as physical health. You eat a salad at lunchtime and use the stairs to be physically fit? Do you do the crossword and set realistic deadlines for your work to help be mentally fit?
Anxiety and stress are never good. When an employee is suffering from anxiety they often avoid certain tasks and find it harder to reverse that position. Equally they may reduce contact with others and or steer clear of activity loads that might cause stress. Anxiety kills creativity and stifles intellect. It hits executive functions such as the ability to organise and reduces effectiveness. Ultimately it undermines the ability to achieve results and drives a downward cycle.
I am middle aged and have often wondered why peers openly complain about their aching knees and high cholesterol, yet no one wants to talk about their emotional wellbeing or heaven forbid the concept of counselling. I admire my millennial colleagues and their ability to speak up about the mental challenges they face. In response we have developed a programme called Physical and Mental Fitness for Life.
In addition to physical activities and nutritional guides, a team of employees researched steps they, and colleagues, can take to support mental and physical health. They identified a total of 30 related initiatives they want to introduce. Simple actions like setting up a lending library for people to borrow books from. They introduced board games at lunch time which has the added social value of getting new employees and people that might otherwise not spend time together to engage in almost friendly warfare. Writing in HBR, founder of Women Online, Morra Aarons-Mele saw mental illness as a challenge but not a weakness. She shared that being more aware of your mental health means knowing yourself and your strengths better. Increased awareness not only means better overall wellbeing, but also enables us to be more authentic leaders and to engage more effectively with others.
As part of our wellbeing commitment, we fund external counselling for any colleague who feels they would benefit from the experience. Counselling is simply a path to being a better version of yourself, whatever better means at that time. It is of enormous professional and personal value. I wish it were mandatory for everyone.
Supporting mental health at any time but particularly post this pandemic, creates better, more productive working environments. It makes total commercial sense.