Words. We say a lot of words every day. To ourselves. To each other. In text messages, WhatsApp groups, emails. Sometimes cards and letters. Sometimes. In conversations, in meetings, in presentations. In Fishbowls like the emotionally charged event the brilliant Gemma Greaves hosted on World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2018.
With 1 in 6.8 people experiencing mental health problems in the workplace, 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK being attributed to mental health conditions, and lack of mental health support costing UK businesses up to £8 billion a year*, the focus of the Fishbowl was to open up, smash the stigmas and take action.
Less talking. More action.
But we mustn’t talk less. We must talk more – and keep talking because action comes from how we talk, not just when we talk. Words. We say a lot of words every day but we need to consider how some of those words impact others. Starting with the words we use to describe mental health conditions. Issues. Disorders. Problems. These are all negative words. We are labelling thoughts, feelings and experiences negatively. This tells people that mental health conditions are wrong. This tells people with mental health conditions that they are wrong. This tells others that people with mental health conditions are wrong.
Changing the words we use, and therefore the conversation, is the easy bit. They’re just words after all. It’s mindsets that are harder to change. Many, many, many mindsets. Mindsets conditioned to believe what’s right and wrong. That’s a huge job. And it isn’t just about changing mindsets around mental health.
Think about mindsets around physical health. Employees rarely take time off when they’re physically sick. We drag ourselves to work with colds and viruses. We log on straight after surgery. We work from home with broken bones. We think we can’t show weakness. We think we must show up. We think we’re expected to carry on.
And then there’s the mindsets around everyday actions. The things we need to do as people, not just employees. People with responsibilities – not just for others but for ourselves too. If we leave work early after working late, we’re judged. Hell, if we leave on time, we’re judged.
I once worked at a company where the CEO was clear that if you didn’t have a family to get home to, there was no reason not to work late. Whilst he valued a work-life balance for those with families, he didn’t value a work-life balance for anyone else.
I once ran a Copywriting workshop that turned into an unexpected discussion on better ways of working. The attendees used the opportunity to tell their boss that he put pressure on them to work at the weekend because he worked at the weekend. It was when he caught up on emails – replied to emails, and emailed others with demands, which in turn left recipients thinking they had to work at the weekend too.
So, we have mindsets to change around physical health and mindsets to change around the way we work. These are the things we can see. If we can change those mindsets first – and fast, we have a far better chance of changing the mindsets around the things we can’t see, like mental health.
Talk first. Act fast.
Here are some suggestions for employers and employees to talk about – and act on:
1. If someone is sick, send them home
They won’t get better at work. They need rest. And no one wants their germs.
Make sure they know they can take as long as they need to get better.
2. If someone seems down, speak up
Talk to them. Ask if they’re okay. Or ask someone else to ask if they’re okay. Make sure they know it’s okay to not be okay.
3. If someone gets up to go, let them go
They have to collect their child, get to the doctor or be home for the gas man.
Make sure they know they can leave without judgement.
4. If someone is always on, turn them off
Unless it’s crucial or urgent, and I mean truly crucial or urgent, there’s no need for people to email – or even call – out of working hours.
Make sure they know that when work stops, everyone stops. Sure, different people work differently. Some are more productive in the early hours of the day. Some work better late at night. Some prefer to clear emails at the weekend ready for the week ahead. But none of these things need to affect others. Save your documents to share in working hours. Save your emails to send in working hours. Save your colleagues from feeling they must always be on.
These are all tiny things that can make a huge difference. And fast. The quicker we change mindsets around physical health and the way we work, the quicker we change mindsets around mental health too. It doesn’t take a lot of time to change, but it is time to change.
*Source: Mental Health Foundation https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-mental-health-work