Business leaders must prioritise creating positive working cultures and tackling mental health problems at work, says This Can Happen founder
Workplace mental health awareness and action has never been so critical, but training and education must filter throughout companies, from top to bottom.
In large companies, especially in deadline-driven industries, stress levels are perpetually high and many of us are simply not equipped to deal with the pressure. Tragedies of those who slip under the radar are regularly reported and should serve as a warning - we are all obliged to take action to help those around us.
Sadly, we are facing a national crisis and every single employee must be taught how to identify a colleague in trouble and how to find the confidence and acquire the knowledge to take appropriate action. This duty of care falls to leaders to set a good example, to establish, manage and implement processes and to set the bar high, ensuring that not one vulnerable employee slips through the net, at any level of the organisation.
It has been widely reported that suicides have risen to a 16-year high across the UK. Hearing these frightening numbers from the Office for National Statistics should be enough to spur every employer into action. Leaders are, after all, responsible not only for the productivity of the business but for the wellbeing of their people. And of course evidence strongly suggests that the two are inextricably linked. A healthy workforce makes for a healthy output. It's not rocket science yet many businesses across the UK are falling behind in the adoption of manageable mental health strategies.
This Can Happen was established to address the gaping void in positive cultures for staff mental health and wellbeing in this country and beyond. Our first event in 2018 broke new ground as over 750 delegates from some of the UK's biggest companies across all sectors gathered to hear experts explain why this pressing issue is growing in importance and recommending workable strategies to ensure that every single employee, from the post-room to the boardroom, is on somebody's radar.
Expert speakers offered advice on spotting signs of distress in a colleague and making sure that everyone knows what to do to help.
Feedback was overwhelmingly positive and delegates participated in frank, open and sometimes emotional discussions about their own journeys and how they plan to make impactful changes in their workplaces.
The team at This Can Happen is steadfast in their determination to spread the word and planning for the 2019 event is gathering speed. Speakers will highlight the fact that neglecting the mental health of staff creates an unproductive workplace and an unhappy environment. Topics for this year's agenda include:
- A deeper understaniding of suicide
- Understanding grief
- After childbirth
- Faith and diversity
- Personal finances
Employees who are constantly racing to keep pace with an ‘always on' culture will eventually burn out and although many businesses have taken leaps towards ensuring their organisation is a great place to work, it's simply not enough. It has to be more than that. To rally employees behind a common purpose to be happy at work and achieve high performance, leadership must prioritise promoting positive working cultures and tackling mental health problems with real, actionable and highly visible strategies in every area of their business. Toxic cultures are all too prevalent and their catastrophic impact is clear. Best-case scenario, unhappy employees quit their jobs but tragically many suffer in silence and the consequences of being in distress and invisible can be unthinkable.
One of the aims of This Can Happen is to address workplace burn-out. We have heard too many tales of stress spiralling out of control with little or no support from managers. Sadly, so many people dread going to work and feel permanently anxious about work, even when they are ‘off-duty'. It's exhausting and frankly, dangerous if left unchecked. Occupational burnout has been recognised as a legitimate medical diagnosis by the World Health Organisation, and employers are finally waking up to its perils. Other work-related stresses include fear of judgement, handling addiction and work-life imbalance.
Strategies to address these issues by educating line-managers and training mental health first aiders are well-intentioned and to an extent, successful, yet there is so much more to be done.
The inaugural This Can Happen Awards were launched to recognise excellence in mental health care at work and the shortlisted companies and individuals have designed innovative and ground-breaking strategies to combat the pressures faced by so many who are struggling in every industry. With great anticipation This Can Happen will present the winners of these awards in London in November and we will all watch with excitement and anticipation as other business take these strategies on board.
Together we are working towards a healthier working culture in the UK, Europe and beyond. We believe we will get there but we must work together and continue to look out for colleagues in trouble, or those heading in that direction. If someone looks like they're not coping with the day-to-day, they're probably not. It only takes a brief ‘are you ok?' to let someone know they are not alone. Be that compassionate person and make a real and lasting difference.
Zoe Sinclair is the founder of This Can Happen, which takes place on 25 November
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