From the Comms Cupboard

It's time to talk about mental health

It's time to talk about mental health
On Time to Talk Day, John and Shaun discuss mental health at work, supporting the campaign 'the power of small'.

Statistics show 2020 was a tough year for employee well-being, so what will the after effects look like? What role does leadership play in how flexible our workplaces become, and what becomes of the puppy at the job interview? (All will be revealed.)

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Episode transcript

John: The 4th of February is Time to Talk Day, and the theme this year is 'the power of small'. We have small conversations all the time on this podcast.

Shaun: Small or short? I would say we deal with some very big themes but in a very short space of time 😋

John: OK. Absolutely! I agree! How important do you think it is that we communicate about well-being and mental health – specifically mental health well-being in an office environment; in a work environment?

Shaun: I think it's become one of those things that ... it's a little bit like sitcoms from the 70s and 80s: we wouldn't necessarily show them now because it's not what was done at the time, and I don't think talking about mental health and well-being was done. Even so far ago probably as 10-15 years ago, was it a thing in offices?

John: Do you think there is still a stigma around it: people suffering from mental health issues?

Shaun: Well I definitely think there is ... oh do you mean other people’s opinion of you going through mental health issues?

John: Yeah. Or admitting to one.

Shaun: Not as much as they used to be. I can think of something very topical in the last week. As you know, I write about financial services and stuff, and the guy who founded Monzo recently came out ... well he left the company. He left Monzo. And he actually said it was too much – it was a lot of stress. You know I can't imagine that happening five years ago. Even three years! I can't even imagine someone as high-profile as Tom Blomfield's coming out and saying that as recently as three years ago.

John: It's sad that it has happened to him and fantastic that he's talking about it and giving a reason because I guess in the past people have been scared to say the real reason why they were leaving. Fear of not getting employment again?

Shaun: Yeah! 😯

John: It's really refreshing that someone can do that.

Shaun: Some would say it's easy for him to do because he can go on to found another company.

John: Perhaps, but we've talked a lot about leadership and showing people the right way to be. He's a good role model, isn't he?

Shaun: As long as people hear that he's done that. Sometimes things go under the radar if they're not in your industry. So do you think from comms ... a communications department now, would it be beneficial to actually eek out those stories and then pass them on to your ...

John: I think that's the best way to do it actually. It's very easy for a corporate company to put out a message about your well-being and it can feel very clinical. It can feel quite staged. I think you need those authentic stories where people can share their health issues truthfully and not feel a stigma with it.

Shaun: Yes and it doesn't matter what industry ... it doesn't matter what you're doing as an organisation – it's a people thing.

John: Absolutely.

Shaun: Some of our mutual friends from Home, an agency based in Bristol – we know a couple of those guys there – they recently did a study in partnership with, I think they're called Roundel (I hope that's the right pronunciation), and it was all about mental health awareness. They came up with some interesting statistics.

John: Hit me with the stats 📊

Shaun: So they did this survey – a study – and 80% of respondents said the events of 2020 negatively impacted employee mental health. We're not being very event-specific here but an awful lot went on in 2020.

John: One giant thing 😷

Shaun: One giant thing and then things that would've been giant had it not been for the big giant thing, and that is political unrest. We have a lot of American listeners to this podcast, and American politics really took over, and American protest really took over. Do you think that a lot of things that happen in another country adversely affect the mental health of people working in the UK, and did American things affect the mental health or mental well-being of people in the UK?

John: I would imagine so. The news is so immediate and so in your face.

Shaun: And social media is horrible!

John: The obsession with the social media side, it does get taken over by the bigger news stories around the world. So absolutely!

Shaun: I'm going to give you another one. This is another stat from the survey – this is a really good one. 91% – so nine and 10 – of organisations are offering more flexibility in how, when and where work gets done. I'd like to hope that's true and I'd like to hope that carries on.

John: At the moment they've got no choice, certainly in the UK. If you don't have to ... if the job doesn't have to be done somewhere, it should be done at home. So I’m not sure that's necessarily a fair assumption, is it? Maybe after this is over and people are offered that, then that different.

Shaun: Yeah that would be nice. That would be nice to feel that it would carry on because mental health doesn't stop once Covid stops.

John: How much do you think people's mental health has been impacted by having to work from home?

Shaun: I think quite a lot. I think that change in circumstances can really affect people, especially if they already have maybe a small home, a large family, distractions, the stress of am I being furloughed or am I having to work and carry on? Where is money coming from next? Is my business is doing well enough to actually keep me employed after all this is over?

John: Yeah. It is a good point. And the carer responsibility’s a big thing that's impacting a lot of people right now. Having to homeschool and still deliver your job to the same level. Hopefully organisations are helping people in that respect. But if you don't have carer responsibilities, is there a greater expectation on you to deliver more?

Shaun: Yeah. Do you know something I haven't really thought about until now is, you know we go on about teachers, and teachers should be at school or they should be at home, or you know the tribal thing ...

John: Both sides of it.

Shaun: Both sides. But actually the teacher also has family and children.

John: At a different school 🏫

Shaun: Yeah! I know! There's so much unfairness around mental health and what others think others should be doing. It's very unfair. I read a lot of it every day. Sometimes I think, you've got to walk in that person’s shoes before you can say something, and I think that applies to mental health in any area, whether it's remote working, Covid, whether it's ... anything! I'm trying to think of examples, but it applies anywhere, that someone should always think about what they're gonna say before ...

John: They say it.

Shaun: ... before they think they understand mental health. Because it's so complicated. I've got one for you: so if mental health is more prevalent now as a concern for organisations, does that mean there is an expectation that your company has to be more empathetic: that leaders should be more empathetic?

John: Yeah, I think so.

Shaun: Is that fair on leaders? I’m thinking of Steve Jobs here, I'm thinking of Mark Zuckerberg. People of relative low empathy but they are very good at building a business. Are we saying that there needs to be more ... Are we expecting more empathy from people; your boss for instance?

John: I think so. I think we are all expecting quite a lot right now. It's an extra-difficult time for everyone, so I think we're all expecting that little extra from people. And those that are not delivering it will probably find that in their employee engagement scores when this is finished.

Shaun: That's interesting.

John: Maybe the flip-side of it is having to deal with these issues on a much larger scale for people has given a lot of – the leaders particularly – an opportunity to show different a side of themselves. Maybe we've noticed communications becoming a bit more human; a bit more personal, and that's got to be a positive thing.

Shaun: That has to be a positive thing. To answer my own question, I don't think it's actually pre-requisite that your leader should be the one the empathy. I think it should be everyone in the organisation; everyone should offer a little more empathy to other people's situations and it shouldn't necessarily have to come from the top down. Do you think it might change how we recruit people in future? Can you imagine someone in HR perhaps sitting in that room and going, right there's an extra tick box here for empathy. How do I find out if this person is empathetic? Do I hand them a puppy and see what they do with it? 🐶 Can you imagine? If they throw it out of the window, you don't hire that person, do you?!

John: I hope you wouldn't! 😲 What else do you think as communications professionals to help people feel more comfortable breaking the stigma of mental health? We've talked about the theme of time to talk being The power of small. This year we can't be together face-to-face with people, so what sort of things do you think we can encourage and help? How can we help this happen?

Shaun: I don't know ... I haven't read about the theme of the power of small, but my understanding of it now without having read anything ... What does that mean to me in mental health, and the power of small? It probably means being more intimately connected with the people around you, and not treating everyone the same but treating them as individuals.

John: And that's got to be a big thing with mental health because we're all different.

Shaun: Yes, we're all different. And I think we've been guilty in the past – all of us – of applying something and making it stick thinking that it will stick for everybody. And I think that may be something that will go out of fashion.

John: There are obviously a lot of people on their own at the moment as well, perhaps having to isolate, or lockdown measures in different countries means you can't see people. It's an opportunity for people to reach out to others. Obviously you hope people would do that anyway, and you don't need a day for that. What about in the workplace? What about organisations externally? Should they be doing more to reach out to their customers in times like this? Are they even responsible? Should they have care about that?

Shaun: Right I'm gonna cop out here and go back to what I said earlier about perhaps it's more an empathetic approach to everything we do. Rather than come up with a strategy for it, as I think they feel cold and clinical.

John: They do.

Shaun: I think sometimes these awareness days are passed by – you have that day and then you move on. Whereas I think mental health is one of those things that has become an intrinsic part of company business and it shouldn't be a strategy, or a week to become aware of something. It should be something that's actually in your values. And it often is in people's values, to be more respectful of people around them. But I think we've forgotten a lot of this.

John: For years and years, we have been protecting people’s physical Health at work, and that's a given. And the mental side… People don't understand it or it hasn't been there before. Hopefully we're getting to a stage where both will go hand-in-hand, where you can't just look after someone's physical health. You also need to help them look after themselves as well, and their mental health, and make sure that the work isn't too much for them.

Shaun: Absolutely. We should round off this episode by thanking our friends at Home for supplying some report statistics for us. We should also do a shout out to the RSPCA and say that no animal was harmed during the making of this podcast.

John: If people want to find out more, they can go to Time to Change to find out how they can have small conversations as well, like we do every week.


Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

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