Businesses must learn to take their employees’ mental health seriously - Kate Dodd

Organisations which don't adapt and take employees' mental health seriously will fail to attract and keep the best people and will struggle to thrive, claims Barclays managing director Philip Aiken.

Kate Dodd, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, Pinsent Masons LLP

He helped establish the Mindful Business Charter, a set of recommendations designed to combat unnecessary work pressure, and was a recent guest on Pinsent Masons' Brain Food For General Counsel podcast.

Aiken said: “I don't think an organisation can perform as well as it can unless people are healthy, are working in a sustainable way and are not being subject to pressures which are unreasonable in the workplace...

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“I see that the old ways of working are fundamentally inefficient and therefore I see the commercial imperative of getting that right as being key to an organisation's success."

In the podcast, Aiken said that for the last 100 years the workplace has had a very robust set of health and safety regulations, predicated on the physical wellbeing of colleagues in a work environment, and that had its genesis in a period of time (the industrial revolution) when people were being physically injured in the workplace.

He added: “I think if we now look at the digital revolution that we're going through people are, I think, being injured in the workplace, but in a way that we can't see, in a mental capacity.”

Alastair Campbell, former communications adviser to UK prime minister Tony Blair and a campaigner on mental health issues, was another guest. He discussed his own depression and the tactics he used to live with it while working under enormous pressure. One of the most radical was being completely open about it.

He said: "I think I have benefited from being open, even though I got a lot of flak from a lot of people... they were all pretty good in the main... I have always felt that being open has helped me as an individual and it has also helped how I feel about the world around me."

He said despite working under huge pressure and in the public eye, he sometimes felt the job was what kept him going, though he recognises this caused issues in his family and private life.

“I coped because I had a desire to do what I was doing. Even with lower energy I still had quite a lot of energy and then, and I'm afraid that's where families take the brunt of it, I'd come home I'd be completely exhausted and I'd just sort of crash. So I think work was actually part of the management of it in a funny sort of way."

Pinsent Masons colleague Sean Elson, described his experiences of mental health and work, and warned against making easy assumptions about people based on outward appearance. Someone who appears wealthy and successful can have mental health issues just as the person who appears to be happy-go-lucky can be experiencing very challenging circumstances.

I believe all businesses should be taking better account of mental health and assessing which pressures are truly necessary and which are not. Companies should not be afraid of admitting they need to change their culture when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.

Businesses sometimes get caught up with the idea that it's impossible to change a culture. It isn’t. Culture change usually takes 3-5 years, but as long as it is approached with the same type of organisation and framework as any other type of change within a business, with the right advice and guidance, it is perfectly possible. If traditional businesses such as law firms can achieve this, any business can.

Kate Dodd is a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, Pinsent Masons

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