It's time to talk about mental health at work

October 10th is World Mental Health Day and as we prepare for our live panel discussion on mental health in the workplace, we're looking at some of the issues surrounding it. Barnaby Lashbrooke says that it's time business leaders started talking about mental health...

Do the youngest members of your team seem more stressed or anxious than the rest? 2018 is time to see emotional intelligence, mindfulness and mental health take centre stage in business. Why? Because UK millennials have the some of the poorest mental wellbeing in the world, behind only Japan, according to a 2017 survey, commissioned by the Varkey Foundation, of more than 20,000 15 to 21-year-olds in 20 countries.

And, for business leaders, it’s in their interest to create a nurturing working environment for millennials, who will make up 75 per cent of the workforce by 2025.

Most employers agree that a healthy workforce is a better performing workforce. Additionally, six in 10 employees say they’d feel more motivated and more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work if their employer took action to support mental wellbeing, according to a survey by mental health charity Mind.

Open up, be vulnerable

Last year I noticed a handful of staff members struggling to deal the same stressful situations as their peers – meeting tight deadlines and handling customer service issues for example. I knew these to be capable individuals, and I wanted to do something to help, and make it clear the working environment we’ve built is a safe and supportive space.

Because I’ve gone through a personal journey of dealing with stress and anxiety, I felt able to start a dialogue. The boss talking about mental health and asking others to do the same? I’m sure it must have felt as strange to them as it did to me. But I can see that it’s made a big difference to the performance of those five employees I’ve spoken to.

Think company-wide

Crucially, those individual conversations kick-started a journey to improve mental wellbeing in our small business. This began, for us, by simply opening the dialogue which, in my experience, only happens when you, the business owner, sets the example.

A 2013 survey by Mind of 2,060 adults in England and Wales in employment found that stress has forced a fifth of workers to call in sick, but 90 per cent lied to their boss about the real reason for not turning up. This is a trust breakdown.

So far at Time Etc, we’ve hired a professor of positive psychology to host a workshop on mindfulness, and we’ll be running some improvisation sessions to boost confidence. We’ve invited a coach in to train our young team stay calm when dealing with those tricky people and situations we all encounter in our working lives. That was an interesting session which taught us it’s often a simple case of using different vocabulary and showing real empathy and concern.

Finally, we’ve implemented peer support. One of the most effective peer-to-peer exercises – so much so we now do it daily – is an ‘appreciation huddle’. Every member of our team starts the day by telling the whole office who they appreciate and why. This incentivises people to help each other out, and strengthens bonds.

Millennials have unique needs

I’m 35, so I just scrape in as a millennial. But as a millennial elder, who has been hiring people for the past 16 years, the twenty-something cohort I’m hiring now seems a slightly different beast.

I think some young employees today, through no fault of their own and largely due to social media, are losing the ability to be present in the moment and make authentic connections. They come to work with lots of emotional baggage and struggle to adapt to a culture where we don’t micro-manage and encourage autonomy.

We can’t change a generation but we can deal with what comes at us. That’s why I believe the new way of doing business will be to talk about mental health. It will be less hierarchical, and more vulnerable. It will be up to employers, whether we like it or not, to help employees cope. The rewards are worth the effort: a happy, motivated, high-performing, loyal workforce.

The charity Mind has a stock of useful free resources for responsible employers who want to help those struggling with mental health issues in the workplace.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

Head over to the Virgin Facebook page on October 10th at 4.45pm (BST), where we'll be live streaming a World Mental Health Day panel discussion featuring Poppy Jamie, founder of Happy Not Perfect; Vanessa Boachie, founder and creative director of Inside Out; Andrew Brown, head of corporate partnerships at CALM; and Vanessa King, positive psychologist, author and board member for Action for Happiness.

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