Mental Health in the Workplace
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Mental Health in the Workplace; Break the Silence – Break the Stigma
We talk to David Beeney about why he set up Breaking the Silence, a Mental Health and Well-being consultancy aiming to break the stigma around mental health in the workplace.
When I finally decided to be brave and speak out about my own long fought battles with my mental health, and at work, for the first time back in May 2016, I had no idea how much it was going to change my life. I was a Commercial Director at the time for Auto Trader and had only been asked to do some talks about mental health in the workplace, because the HR team knew that I was also a qualified mental health counsellor for Mind. They thought I was just going to talk about life as a therapist; I chose instead to tell my story of suffering in silence in the corporate world with an anxiety disorder for over 30 years. Of everything I have ever done in my life I have never been so humbled by the feedback I received that day and for many weeks following it. My story connected with so many people across the business that day, on so many different levels, regardless of their role, level of responsibility, age, gender, personality, it was human connection and not characteristics or demographics. That experience, knowing how many people I had touched and helped to speak up about some of their own challenges, previously or now inspired me to keep on sharing my story and to help as many people as I could.
So, I founded my business ‘Breaking the Silence’ because I was hoping to inspire many more people to ‘break their silence’ about mental health in the workplace, or support others in the workplace to do so. I was determined to help others to go through the same supportive and positive experience as myself and since ‘coming out’, my own well-being has improved significantly. My story has opened many doors for me and a year to the day I first shared my story, I was sat in the boardroom at Sainsbury’s delighted to be supporting their teams with employee well-being and helping to advise on culture for what is one of our country’s most famous retail brands.
I have also been privileged to have worked with HSBC, The Irish Rugby Football Union, Cambridge and Southampton University along with other numerous organisations of all shapes and sizes. They all have one thing in common though and that is real, authentic and sincere People Agendas. I now regularly speak at CIPD meetings and really feel that I am making a difference. However, there remains the largest barrier that continues to prevent many thousands of more people from being able to speak freely, confidently and openly about their mental health and that is the stigma that is still very much alive and kicking in the workplace.
This stigma put bluntly, kills people and devastates families, friends and colleagues. If people could speak about their mental health, many that had suffered in silence, would still be alive today. Suicide is now the biggest killer of men under 45 and over 40% of their friends and family had no idea that they were even suffering and struggling with any dark thoughts until it was too late. Being a mental health counsellor, having experienced mental health issues personally and now working alongside many, experienced and talented people within HR and well-being, I feel able to understand and therefore support others professionally in what culture and behaviour creates and maintains this deadly stigma and how to go about starting to change it in the workplace. Without doubt, it is the silence that is far more the issue than what people are actually saying. To eradicate the stigma, we therefore must encourage more conversation and openness in the workplace about mental health, we need to normalise the occurrence, much like breaking a leg, having a cold or just not feeling well. It’s brain health, rather than just physical health, simple.
As opposed to now simply sharing my own mental health story, I design and run mental health workshops for leaders and managers to equip and help them to create stigma free cultures of trust in their own departments and across the organisation. Mental health in the workplace has been ignored for too long.
They’re quite interactive by nature, ensuring participants gain maximum understanding and impact about the challenges and issues facing people and businesses today. We ensure everyone leaves with a far greater level of empathy towards a mental health sufferer, perhaps recognition of some of their own mental health issues and the confidence and comfort that they are not alone and it is not weakness. The main positive outcome for the organisation as a whole though, is the heightened awareness and level of understanding about how to better support individuals that they manage who may have either short term or longer term mental health support needs. We are also committed to making sure individuals who attend the workshops have practical tools and tips as well as the recognition that environments and culture play an enormous part in creating their own mental health and wellbeing charter, and ultimately creating a stigma free environment for their team.
Evidence has shown that for a business to truly eradicate stigma the tone about the subject must be set from the top of the organisation. Senior leaders must be prepared to share how mental health has touched their lives because it will then be much easier for others to resonate with them and therefore share their stories. However, line managers also hold the key to creating and reinforcing the right culture. They have the power to support or contradict how the leaders of the organisation wish to be perceived and regarded over this issue. If they continually cancel one to one meetings with an individual for instance, they are cancelling the opportunity to ask how that individual is feeling or for that individual to share their own views. Not having the invitation or opportunity to express how someone might be feeling can be one simple lack of action that may lead to further deterioration in their well-being. As many of us appreciate, often the longer we hold onto things the more heavy the burden they can become.
The majority of businesses also now link employee well-being to the overall performance of their business. The total cost to employers of mental health is estimated at nearly £26 billion each year. That is equivalent to £1,035 per year for every employee in the UK workforce. Research among the top 100 FTSE companies shows that those who prioritise employee engagement and well-being outperform the rest by an average of 10%. Hence employee well-being is no longer seen as a ‘fluffy subject’ but a critical strategy to drive optimum results for a business. It also supports Talent Attraction strategies, employee engagement and the reputation of the business with employees and customers.
When I work with HR teams we initially start to think about what success looks like and because of the sensitivity of mental health training and employee communications, and how people might respond to any activity or education programmes about it, we prepare and consider many scenarios and almost all outcomes. As a qualified therapist, along with my handpicked qualified consultants, we make sure that the business is geared for more usage of any employee assistance programme and that employees ‘opening up’ will really trust that they will not receive any negative treatment as a result of doing so.
When I named my business ‘Breaking the Silence’ I had no idea how significant it was to actually break the silence. If we can truly help to break the silence, we will together break the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace.
Engage & Prosper are delighted to be working in partnership with David and Breaking the Silence. A big thank you to David Beeney too for speaking with us so openly at times and allowing us to publish this article. We fully support all efforts to address mental health in the workplace and in everyday life.
Breaking the silence is an independent UK based Mental Health and Well-being consultancy, helping to educate individuals and organisations, to better support understanding and drive positive action to help break the stigma of mental health in the workplace.
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Engage & Prosper is a UK based privately owned Employee Engagement Consultancy and Social Enterprise, on a mission to help organisations develop a highly productive and fulfilling workplace culture, with their people, through enhanced employee engagement strategies, fabulous and effective internal communications platforms and tailored reward and recognition programmes.
For more information on Engage & Prosper or to discover how we can help you achieve your organisational and people goals please call +44 (0) 330 223 0464 or find out more at www.engageandprosper.com