We get asked this all the time. The answer is yes: mental health.
The thing is, mental health is often such a taboo topic that we don’t even realise that it is not being discussed, we treat it like it does not exist.
It does exist, and it effects businesses every day in subtle and often hidden ways. Research carried out by Mind (a UK-based mental health charity) identified that 1 in 5 people had called in sick because of stress in the workplace, and over half had resigned or considered resigning because of workplace stress.
If anything else had this impact on the bottom line of a business, there would be a project team and a war room!
So, as Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May 2018) is focused on stress this year, I want to talk about talking about it.
Stress, like all mental health issues, is not as easy to identify as physical illness. When someone walks into the office with the flu, that is easy to spot, so you can do something about it. When they walk in feeling so stressed they are not sure if they can get to the end of the day, you may have no idea – the clues can be difficult to spot.
This is one of the main reasons that when it happens to you, very quickly you believe that you are the only one; there must be something wrong with you. You are not – remember the research statistics: 50% of people have thought of quitting because of stress. This is why it is so important to ensure that mental health or stress or wellbeing, or whatever you want to call it, gets discussed. This is the first step to making things better.
I know this from personal experience. I have been part of that 50%, feeling like I was failing, feeling like I had no more to add. I was lucky though, I had managers and colleagues who were prepared to talk and, more importantly, were prepared to listen.
As I think back to those times, I appreciate that these were difficult conversations for them: they were terrified of getting it wrong or making it worse. Even so, they took time out and listened, talked, shared some of their own fears and worries, but mostly they helped me put my worries and fears into perspective and put plans in place to resolve issues, so I could move forward. They told me through their actions that they had my back.
At the heart of it all, they cared. They cared enough to have a conversation that they were not comfortable with. They cared enough to give someone else time when they were busy. They cared enough because they thought that one day they might need someone else to care about them. I am not sure I ever really thanked them enough, so I am left with the only other option, to pay it forward.
So, during this mental health awareness week, just talk about it.
Start the conversation, acknowledge the issue exists. If we can start to talk openly about stress in the workplace, then together we stand a chance of fixing it.