The tone must be set from the top

The tone must be set from the top

I am still feeling inspired by my visit to the Institute of Directors in London yesterday where I was privileged to be at the policy launch of ‘Mental health in the changing world of work’. I should not have attended because it was only 72 hours after my hernia operation but I just really wanted to be there. I was very sensible and cautious with my ‘tender area’ until after the meeting, choosing to minimise crowds by just using taxis and over-ground trains. However, I couldn’t resist the offer of a quick beer in Piccadilly and the lights of London. That quick beer ended up being four beers but also turned into a very long journey home. This was because they stopped all trains running past Reading and I had to get a bus from Reading to Newbury. My fault totally for not checking first!!

Anyway, back to the inspirational launch at the IOD which was a real statement of intent from the ‘business world’ to attack the stigma of mental health in the workplace. It was packed as it had received fantastic media coverage in the morning on both national tv and radio. It also attracted the very biggest names associated with mental health in the corporate space including ‘little old’ me from Breaking the Silence!! It was positioned as possibly the biggest initiative ever to come out of Pall Mall and as stated by Brian Heyworth of HSBC “perhaps we are finally going to deal with the very last of the taboo subjects”.

The clearest message that came out of the day for me was from the doyenne of mental health in the corporate space, Geoff McDonald formerly of Unilever. He made it very clear that if businesses were serious about getting rid of the stigma they must set the tone from the top. He asked for senior executives to tell their own stories and to openly talk about mental health to their employees. Geoff said “If we talk about mental health openly in the workplace then they will feel that they can”. He refuted that some people didn’t have a story because mental health touches every one of us. Geoff said that if you are lucky to have escaped a mental illness yourself then talk about a member of your family and tell their story. Geoff pulled no punches and I look forward to having lunch with him next month.

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I totally agree with Geoff that the tone must be set from the top but it is becoming clearer to me that the critical education piece has to be with the ‘line managers’. If we are to eradicate the stigma, the managers must become more empathic with mental health sufferers and be given training. Equally, if we are to create healthy open environments they must realise the dangers of cancelling one to one and team meetings. When you take away your people’s opportunities to share how they are feeling, they will hold on to things which will only become heavier and impact on their wellbeing.


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