The Workplace - March 2018
There have been moments during my career where I have felt isolated and alone. I have always been surrounded by people, as mostly we all are, yet on occasions it most definitely felt that it was me and only me.
And do you know what? I would have loved to be able to talk to someone to soften the pressure or share my load. There must have been times when my anxiety affected my work and my overall judgement to enjoy what I was doing.
I never dreamt of telling people how I felt. The weakness shown in a sales testosterone industry would have been unthinkable; this should now be something we confine to the history books.
Why mental health and anxiety has long been a taboo subject I can’t answer but in the modern workplace it should be discussed, accepted and supported. One in four of us will experience mental distress over our lifetime, yet unlike physical wellbeing, it is rarely talked about. In fact, despite stress being the number one cause for sickness absence, 95% of employees give their boss another reason for their time off.
This year at Goodman Masson we started a series of initiatives and projects linked to our approach to mental health and wellbeing. The uptake and response have, in truth, surprised me and have been astounding. We wanted to have a sophisticated knowledge and awareness on how we deal with, prevent and manage issues associated with mental health. With an initial focus on depression and anxiety, all our people now have access to doctors and psychologists.
I love what Ben Congleton, CEO of Olark Live Chat, had to say when he was thrust into the limelight earlier this year. Reported on by the media the world over, his response to an employee taking time off for mental illness was we should “cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work”. His response to these issues resonated with everyone who’s been touched by mental health problems.
What makes Olark’s response even more poignant is the fact that they’re a small business… 60% of all the UK’s private sector workforce are employed by small businesses, yet you often only hear of larger companies giving advice and support.
I wonder as an industry if we should do better?
Last month coach Harriet Waley-Cohen visited the office, which allowed us to start a dialogue about anxiety, depression and burnout, and it was great to see 20 colleagues opening up and supporting each other. This is why we now have a mental health coach visit the office once a quarter, for those comfortable in groups, whilst offering private counselling sessions for those who prefer to speak one-on-one.
We should share our approach with each other and confine to history once and for all the stigma of mental health.