When I started my first proper job for a large insurance firm about 20 years ago, I remember we had a welcome reception with wine and cheese (now that shows how long ago this was).
This was a chance for new recruits to meet senior staff and was part of the formal induction process. After quite a lot of cheese and some wine I got talking to a Director from a different part of the business. My tongue loosened by the wine, I told her that I was very unhappy in my new post. I didn’t think I fitted in, felt very anxious and I was probably depressed, having experienced depression in the past. After a few awkward moments the Director excused herself and went to mingle and I went home. The next day I went in to work and was immediately asked in to a meeting room by my Manager. I was told in no uncertain terms that he did not appreciate me talking about the department to other colleagues and that if I wasn’t happy then maybe it wasn’t the job for me. After this things were, not to put too fine a point on it, awkward – and I left soon after. To be honest Mental Health wasn’t widely spoken about back then so I don’t hold any ill will towards my Manager and as a new entrant to the labour market, I thought his reaction was pretty normal.
I contrast my own experiences to those of someone fairly new to the world of work. I recently spoke to Andrew who has been a Management Consultant at EY for about four years. Andrew, like me, had experienced depression at school and university. When looking for a graduate scheme to join, EYs reputation as a people centred business played a part in Andrew’s decision.
When he joined EY, Andrew wanted to explore whether he could create a wellbeing programme that was tailored to young people joining the world of work supporting them to manage their mental health and wellbeing, – perhaps they had moved to a new city away from family and friends for instance. Not only was this project supported by leadership at EY, it was positively encouraged. Andrew knows he can be open with his managers about his depression and has the flexibility to balance his own time with client needs in a way that works for him. So, it does appear that times, are changing.
So what does the future hold? Undoubtedly, mental health is spoken about more widely and has a greater profile in the media. This has gone some way to removing the stigma associated with poor mental health. However, as mental health becomes more widely discussed in the workplace it’s important that it doesn’t drop off the agenda or become a ‘non-issue’. Line managers should still be equipped to have conversations with employees who look like they are struggling with their Mental Health.
Technology is developing at an incredible rate. This allows us to have more agile and flexible workplaces, which can be of great benefit to someone who needs to work from home because of their mental health. Often, this new technology allows employees to work at times that suit them, which can be very useful if sleep patterns are erratic or a person is fatigued at certain times of the day. However, it is important that we make time to ‘check-in’ with our colleagues who work flexibly, to make sure they have the support they need. As in all things in life, getting the right balance is important.
The future provides challenges, certainly, but also many opportunities to get it right around mental health. I have worked at Business Disability Forum for six years and the progress made in that time makes me even more hopeful that in another six perhaps mental health will be discussed in the workplace, in the same way we discuss physical health.
Interested in more about mental health?
Business Disability Forum recently undertook a survey of 16-24 year olds to gauge their attitudes to mental health and the role of businesses and universities. While a huge majority of respondents wanted to talk more about mental health, few felt able to do so at their places of work or study, showing how outdated approaches are holding back the next generation.
For the full findings, visit our Media Centre. A report on the findings will be released in January 2019.