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If leadership and employee engagement is to mean anything it has to reflect a partnership of concern and care in which mental health issues are seen to be every bit as important as any other.
How good is your staff well-being policy? Are you proactive or reactive; do you display an open or closed attitude to illness; is return to work geared to help your people or to help the business? In short, how much do you genuinely care about your people and see their well-being as a positive benefit which strengthens the organisation?
Oh yes, and do you display the same attitude towards mental health as you do towards physical health? The sad fact is that in far too many organisations as well as in wider society, there is still a stigma attached to mental health. Admittedly, thanks to the sterling work done by mental health organisations and by an increasing number of those affected being prepared to speak out it is a stigma which is gradually lifting; but nevertheless it is safe to say that there is still some way to go before mental health issues are accepted on a par with other health issues.
It also must be said that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what constitutes a mental health issue. Areas such as bipolar disorder and depression are perhaps better understood by a wide range of people than was the case even a few years ago but what about anxiety or addiction, or the way in which a life changing event or sudden crisis may affect our outlook on life.
In a recent article which we wrote for HRZone we examined the importance of factoring in the people element when we draw up business continuity plans, including the provision of counselling in the event of a crisis. Many would not see such actions as coming under the banner of mental health and yet the provision of swift assistance in the immediate aftermath of an event can often make all the difference in terms of long-term mental health outcomes.
This provision of swift assistance, of psychological first aid, was in fact the theme of World Mental Health Day on 10 October. As the campaign’s website highlighted “Learning the basic principles of psychological first aid will help you to provide support to people who are very distressed, and, importantly, to know what not to say.” Although the campaign primarily directed its efforts at professionals such as those who work in health or the emergency services, it does have an important lesson for all of us.
In support of the day, the Bank of England released a video entitled ‘This is me’ in which some of its staff spoke out about their personal experiences with mental health issues. They did so as part on an ongoing initiative, having signed the Time to Change pledge in 2013. The central message is that the more that businesses can encourage open discussion in respect of mental health issues, the more that the stigma will be lifted and the greater support that we will be able to give our people when they need help.
Is this a business issue? Absolutely! Staff well-being isn’t simply another certificate to hang on the wall. If leadership and employee engagement is to mean anything it has to reflect a partnership of concern and care in which mental health issues are seen to be every bit as important as any other.