World Mental Health Day 2019

World Mental Health Day 2019
Published: 10 October 2019

“it’s never over-reacting to ask for what you want and need” Amy Poehler 

Thankfully mental health is an issue that as a Society we are becoming accustomed to dealing with. Analysis by the Financial Times estimates mental health costs companies $1 trillion a year and statistics from Mind inform us that one in four people face a mental health problem each year and one in six of us report experiencing a common mental health problem in any given week. Whilst these numbers may appear high, there is anecdotally a greater awareness of these facts and an increasing number of campaigns/ resources for us to help each other and help ourselves. 

'It’s ok not to be ok,' 'time to change' and 'Every Mind Matters' are straplines that we are familiar with and they have hopefully encouraged us to embrace the prevalence of mental health problems in our communities. Recognising that whilst there are calls for better funding of mental health services, there is, at least, better knowledge and importantly less stigma attached to any individual’s suffering. 

As a leading Executive Search company, Berwick Partners work with senior candidates from a tremendously wide range of sectors and the conversations that we are having about being a 'responsible employer' are evolving rapidly.  The 'wellness agenda' is not limited to the physical and neither is it solely the domain of Human Resources.  Rather, it is something that modern businesses appreciate that they need to embrace as part of their Employee Value Proposition, in order to provide a constructive, appreciative environment for employees at all levels. 

Although statistically difficult to ascertain, we sense that there is a move towards trying to understand what employees (and leaders) need in order to have a fulfilled professional and personal life.  'Personalisation' of one’s career through shared parental leave, flexible working, employee support mechanisms and more meaningful performance review are all more common-place modus operandi; yet to what extent does this represent practice rather than merely policy? 

An organisation can offer benefits and support, but if there is not active take-up or at least the acceptance that they are viable options for someone who requires assistance, then the victory is shallow. Reading the press, it might be felt that there is far less tolerance of tyrannical leadership, but sadly the absence of the 'rule of dominance' does not necessarily create a vacuum for staff to explain what they need, feel that they will be heard and their requests considered. 

Business in the Community’s 2018 Mental Health at Work Survey highlights the disconnect between senior leaders and employees’ perception of mental health support at work.  In short, Chief Executives and board members are far more likely to think that their organisation supports its staff than staff themselves.  Furthermore 68% of managers still believe that there are barriers to providing support. Anecdotally this is in part driven by managers not feeling equipped to be able to have the conversations with employees. 

This doesn’t necessarily paint a picture where thoughtful policies and programmes are landing the way that they are intended, yet it is worth considering how far business has come in a relatively short amount of time. Statistics in the Business in the Community’s 2016 and 2017 Mental Health at Work Surveys saw employee perception being markedly less positive (the number of employees who believe that their manager is genuinely concerned about their wellbeing has risen by 5% since 2016) and this resonates with our candidate interactions. 

Policies aside, less lip-service, more action and above all cultural change is moving business in the direction that it requires.  Here’s to seeing even better outcomes for World Mental Health Day 2020. 

For more information please contact Elizabeth James, Partner and head of the Education Practice at Berwick Partners, specialising in recruiting academic and professional services leadership appointments across the Higher Education sector.

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