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Mental Health At Work: Q&A with David Sayers

20.05.2021

 

May is a month that highlights the importance of mental health with it being Stress Awareness Month and mental health at work week taking place from the 10-16th May.

Following our Psychological Safety: Creating Safe Spaces At Work event we sat with guest speaker David Sayers, Partner – CFO & Board Practice at Green Park to discuss the importance of mental health at work and how to end the stigma around it.

 

Q: What can organisations do to encourage people to start talking about mental health in the workplace?

There’s a lot of fear around being open about personal mental health issues. People often believe that it can affect their jobs and career advancement opportunities.

My experience has been that by me telling my story this has enabled other people to tell their stories and I absolutely can prove that me being promoted after telling my story to where I am now means that my company thought of it as a really positive thing. And many companies will now take this approach.

I totally understand how people would be reticent in telling their own story because that’s the culture that we’ve had in the UK. Mental health has been everybody’s dirty little secret for years. It’s only really in the last couple years that organisations and individuals have been comfortable with the subject matter.

 

Q: You talked quite a bit about how we all have mental health and during our psychological safety event you said that 90% of people exhibit negative mental health and come out of it with intervention. Could you expand on that a bit more?

90% of people that have early intervention make a full recovery. The challenge is that not everyone can get that level of intervention as support services in the UK are trying to play catch up.

A negative incident can affect your mental health negatively for a few hours, or even a few days. It only becomes an illness when those symptoms are still there two weeks down the line and there is no alleviation to those naturally. People go down a continuum to be more stressed, work it through and then reset. That tends to happen on a fairly fluid basis and that’s normal – that’s why we all have mental health.

 

Q: How can organisations create a wellbeing policy that is fully inclusive?

Thinking about social disadvantages and social challenges and how those manifest themselves in slightly different fashions is critical when creating an inclusive policy that can provide more equitable support.

There is evidence to support that sections of our community that have higher than normal unemployment, crime, poor housing i.e. socio economic factors have been most affected by COVID , so it’s a fair line to draw knowing that external factors that affects ones mental health that this would adversely affect these communities to a higher %.

Think of mental health & wellbeing as multi-linear in it’s output, and how it affects people in different ways. So constantly review, constantly challenge and constantly look to change things. What’s good one month may not be good the following month.

 

Q: Are there any signs we should be looking for in our colleagues?

A great first step to enable you to recognise the signs in others within your organisation is to get some of your team mental health first aid trained.

Myself and several colleagues completed the Mental Health First Aid England Training. The training makes you aware of certain signs to look out for. And these signs are very different from an individual or an organisational perspective. The fact that most people are still working from home adds another degree of complication to this.

For individual signs if you notice someone is little disengaged, tired, distracted, a little more unkempt these can be key signs that that person may not be taking care of themselves or feeling very stressed.  For organisational signs if lots of people are taking time of sick or working incredible long hours those are prominent indicators that culturally things may need to change to improve wellbeing.

Mental health is hugely personal to the individual. There is no catch all or one size fits all when it comes to recognising signs. I had been struggling with my own mental health agenda for 7-8 years prior to the event and I had senior roles so I got pretty good at hiding it. If you see people regularly i.e. friends, teammates you will pick up on little things that are different.

 

Q: At Green Park you have a huge focus on wellbeing and have done a huge amount of work in that space. What do you think has had the most impact internally?

The creation of our CREED (Courage, Rigor, Empathy, Energy, Diversity) pillars was a big help in changing the dial about our culture. It’s not management led but colleague led.

The senior management team changed the dial as well and built a framework upon our behaviours, our lived experiences and how we hold people to account. It was during courage month that I decided to tell my story. I began talking about mental health specifically and the company got on board about creating a range of mental health initiatives such as free therapy sessions, our app and more to target many of the key issues facing workplace wellness.

These came from CREED and our culture is so different to what it was a few years ago.

 

Q: At Green Park you support Mental Health Awareness week. What are you doing this year?

Ahead of Mental Health Awareness week weAhead of Mental Health Awareness week we had our first Green Park wellbeing day to recognise the hard work of our colleagues throughout a challenging year and to ensure we are providing a healthy, balanced work environment that values and supports mental health.

In addition to our internal wellbeing support programmes we offer wellness support to our employees and clients via our Green Park Wellbeing + app. The app has useful information, you can book sessions through it and it takes keep track individual wellbeing – how you’re feeling everyday and provides insights.

The app helps to track individual wellbeing; how you are feeling each day and aims to provide insights into positive and negative triggers in mood. The app also offers useful information and allows users to book sessions with qualified therapists, which is free for Green Park employees.

We are also launching free Executive Coaching sessions for all employees with a focus on health, wellbeing and coaching conversations about personal growth to help employees develop ‘Personal Growth Plans’. These plans can optionally be shared with managers to ensure that our employees personal and professional goals are aligned.

 

Q: For HR leaders who are really keen to champion mental health and do more in this space particularly taking into considering how the pandemic has affected this where should they start?

I would recommend looking at the Health At Work Commitment 2019. It provides a lot of information on why its effective and what works. The question isn’t why should they but why haven’t they?

According to Deloitte for every £1 invested in mental health, organisations get a £5 return. The real is cost is in reactive care so focus on proactive care to boost mental health before it requires intervention or reactive care. Taking action and making a positive impact to wellbeing and mental health at work doesn’t take a huge amount of budget. If you really want engagement you want senior leadership to get behind this and take an active role in driving this.

Be prepared to launch a load of initiatives – some will work well -some wont.

 

The most powerful question anyone can ask in the mental health journey is ‘How are you feeling today?’ and if you don’t get the answer you’re looking for ask again.

 

 

David Sayers’ career has spanned over 30 years primarily as Finance Director within the global property sector and headhunting across the C-suite community. Green Park is one of Europe’s fastest growing suppliers of leadership recruitment and consultancy services across the Private, Public and Third sectors.

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