At Bupa, we want to be at the forefront, leading the conversation around supporting good mental health both in and out of the workplace, so we were proud to sponsor the Mental Wealth Festival’s Business Breakfast panel this week, for the second year in a row. The festival, organised by City Lit, provides an excellent forum for people engaged, or looking to engage, in mental health and wellbeing to share best practice.
This year’s panel looked at ‘Leadership and Workplace Culture’ and I was joined on the panel by Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins, Paul Farmer, CEO of MIND, James Jopling, Executive Director Samaritans Scotland; and Joanna Place, Chief Operating Officer at Bank of England.
Listening to the other panelists and the business leaders and educators in the room, it is clear that supporting mental health challenges is one of the biggest concerns for our society today. Thankfully, the conversation around mental health has evolved considerably since I started my career, and people are now more willing to acknowledge that they need help. However, there is more to be done to help leaders to feel comfortable talking about mental health with their people and to signpost them to the right support when they need it. This is important as early intervention can aid recovery and help those who want to remain in work.
One of the misconceptions around poor mental health is that taking time off work is necessary for someone to recover. I know from personal experience that work can give people a sense of purpose which boosts their mental resilience and gives them a sense of normality. As a GP I saw many people for whom work played a vital role in aiding their recovery. However research shows that over 300,000 people a year fall out of work having suffered a long-term mental health condition due to a lack of support. This is a concern as the longer someone is out of work, the more difficult and less likely it is that they will return to the workplace. This is a key business issue as it means that many employers risk unwittingly losing talent.
For some people the thought of returning to work can feel as distressing as their original symptoms and, here, leaders can play a role in ensuring a smooth return to work. Creating a supportive environment, where someone can talk as openly about their experience of poor mental health as they would a broken leg, is key to enabling someone to successfully transition back into the workplace. Normalising the conversation around mental health can help with the long-term management of a condition as it makes it more likely that people will seek early intervention if they need.
However, it helps if the conversation starts before someone has to take time off work. As a people leader, I am very honest with my team about how I’m feeling and where my energy levels are. And I always ask them how they are doing. Being open about my health and wellbeing empowers my team to tell me how they are doing which is vital for identifying any potential issues. For some there is a nervousness around this conversation as they can’t provide medical support. When speaking to other people leaders and business leaders, I always stress that we don’t need to deliver the medical intervention ourselves. As leaders our responsibility is to encourage people to seek medical advice and create a workplace environment where our people can thrive.