Mismatch point

Imagine this. You have a high performer in your organisation. They are super impressive at their day job consistently delivering amazing results. There is a lesser part of their role that they say gives them anxiety and negatively impacts on their mental health. They decide they don’t want to do that for a two week period saying that it will positively help their well being and help them perform in the main function of their role.

Do you:
a) Public castigate them for their perspective
b) Fine them a hefty chunk of cash for not doing it
c) Threaten to throw them out if they do it again
d) Have a conversation with them to understand how you could better support them

A winner of four grand slams, Naomi Osaka’s greatest victory could be her call for change

Well if you are the organisers of the Tennis Grand Slams you would choose A-C and only actually (begrudgingly) contemplate D after one of your star players withdraws from the French Open and you are roundly criticised by the sporting world. Naomi Osaka has started an important conversation about the mental health of sports stars, especially those in individual sports. The pressure on them to perform is enormous and if like Osaka you are naturally a quiet, reserved and introverted person the prospect of having to answer questions at a potentially challenging and intimidating press conference is understandably likely to negatively impact your well-being.

I hope that in her bravery Osaka has opened the door to a genuine review about media expectations for professional athletes. We pay to watch them play not to answer a barrage of questions. Our interest is in their skills on court or on the pitch not how articulate they are when faced with a probing inquiry.

The lesson for us is how often to we have conversations with the people in our teams to enquire about their mental health and well-being? How regularly do we check in to see if there are aspects of the job that are in reality peripheral and could be adapted, adjusted or reallocated to improve their performance and productivity? Do we have environments where our teams feel able to speak up and be confident that we will listen, empathise and respond? Too often our default position can be well this is the way we have always done it. If we aspire to have a more inclusive society and more productive teams this has to change.

So my ask of any of you reading this week is speak to your colleagues and teams. Use the Osaka story as a natural route in and have a genuine, open and honest conversation about whether there are aspects of the work you do that causes undue stress or anxiety that could be done differently. I hope that this case will make a big splash on the world of sport resulting in positive change but wouldn’t it be wonderful if the ripples went much, much further.

Brew Monday

This week I want to shine a massive spotlight on Samaritans. Brew Monday is an absolute gem of an idea and given the current circumstances, really needed. Turning a fundraising activity to support people in need at exactly the same time as encouraging a behaviour that works in support of your cause is in my eyes pure genius! My donation is on its way. It also made me think about how much more I could do to check in on friends and family and not just because we are in a lockdown but as a standard daily habit.

But first, it’s important for me to look in the mirror. It is far too easy to immediately leap into how do I help others without considering my own needs. Last week I talked about cups running low or empty and the cumulative impact of multiple lockdowns added to heightened work stress is certainly impacting on me. Mental health inexplicably remains a taboo subject and when I reflect on my own thoughts on my mental health it stems from a perception that an admittance that my anxiety is building, my stress is growing and ability to cope diminishing feels like an admittance of failure, a lack of personal strength, wimping out. I have to confess that historically I have placed too little emphasis on my own mental health. Sky News posted this really helpful article earlier this month and it is well worth a read. So if you are now thinking you should complete your own self assessment there are some great tools out there including this one from the NHS – Your Mind Plan.

My wider inclusion question for this week stems from this. I believe we are getting better about being open about mental health challenges we may be facing but there is still a long way to go. In the workplace there remains a reluctance to openly talk about mental health and we are far more likely to rally round and offer support to a colleague with flu, a chronic bad back or a leg break than one with a mental health problem. So what action can we take?

Three things really. The first is to start with yourself. We often place our own self care at the bottom of the pile. There has never been a more important time to rethink that list of priorities and place ourselves first.

The second: personal development. Build your knowledge around what to look for, how to support and critically where to signpost. Supporting someone with a mental health problem may require a skilled practitioner. Sometimes the best thing you can do is encourage someone to seek professional help. For tips on things you can do to support others this website is a great starting point.

And the third thing is what you can ask your employer to do. A couple of years ago I heard Dr Shaun Davis speak about the benefits of the Royal Mail’s Mental Health First Aider programme. Having trained colleagues readily available to support members of staff is a great way of both demonstrating organisational commitment and understanding but is also a brilliant support programme for your staff. You can read a bit more about what they have done here. What if every employer had a Mental Health First Aid programme? What if we thought about Mental Health First Aid in the same way as we currently think about physical First Aid? I will definitely be asking this question in my organisation, will you? #ImNotTired