Creating a Positive Mental Health Culture
Posted: 30th May 2019
Twenty-five years ago, ‘stress management’ was usually a luxury item on the company training agenda. Fifteen years ago, the term ‘stress’ appeared to gain a corporate stigma (perhaps because more people were citing stress as a reason for long-term sickness absence and resignations). And so, we had a rise in ‘Dealing with Pressure’ courses. In the past five years or so, we have moved to wellbeing, resilience and mental health awareness.
It could be argued that although equipping individuals with tools and techniques for resilience is a very good thing, we are still treating the symptoms of an organisation/system level problem.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that a system itself (including an organisation/corporation) doesn’t care. Indeed, it simply cannot. It cannot empathise or show compassion. It is a thing and not a being with a conscience. If a company has shareholders, it is legally obliged to make money first and foremost. Indeed, from a legal perspective, if there were seen to be ‘too much’ investment in staff welfare and corporate social responsibility, it could be deemed as breaking the law.
Having researched the tensions and paradoxes within organisations, I came to the conclusion that organisations are often insane! However, it does not have to be this way. So how can we create saner (i.e. healthier) organisations?
How can we create organisational cultures that engender respect, promote engagement and prioritise the welfare of staff (who make the continued existence of the organisation possible)? If, as I often hear, “people are our greatest asset”, how do we embrace, live and demonstrate this? In addition, how can we recognise, handle and alleviate the stigma of mental health issues in the same way that physical health issues are addressed?
The answers to a healthier organisation (with a positive health culture) could be the subject of many volumes. However, the ten ideas below will give you a starting point:
- Continue to help individuals grow their personal resilience. Train managers in self-resilience and the ability to support their staff. Where feasible, make ‘staff welfare’ one of the core management objectives.
- Pull values from the organisation as well as pushing from top level. Ensure the values have example behaviours associated. Give examples of what behaviours are not okay - to help eliminate old and out of date behaviours like bullying and discrimination. It helps if the values and behaviours reflect the positive and healthy values in the current society outside of the organisation. For example, why should sexism be tolerated in a company when it is not tolerated outside? Why should corporate pollution and resource wastage be okay when it is not acceptable to society? Why should unethical behaviour be okay when it is not accepted in general society?
- Make sure there is two-way communication. Clear direction and expectations from the top with open forums for communication ‘upwards’ from the rest of the organisation.
- Make the new culture the ‘norm’ and the old culture ‘abnormal’.
- Empower staff to be able to carry out their own jobs and to make meaning within their roles. The best definition I encountered for empowerment is “freedom within boundaries”. The organisation and/or manager still controls the boundaries but allows flexibility within a scope, enabling individuals to grow into their roles and perhaps develop them over time.
- Take mental health as seriously as you would take physical health. Educate management and staff about mental health awareness. Seek to remove the stigma around stress and mental health issues. Give people who are a struggling a set of resources and avenues to seek/gain help.
- Use ‘nudge’ methodology to introduce subtle changes and set people on a positive path.
- Create positive health champions/coaches in the business. Train them well and give them support. Make sure they have resources and places to refer people if required.
- Educate managers and staff to be able to deal with uncertainty, tensions and paradox within their roles.
- Create a ‘solve-at-cause’ philosophy. Actively seek out what makes staff reactive, what stresses them, what causes the most destructive pressure and what wastes their time. At a team level, decide the priorities and preferred outcomes and then establish possible strategies to prevent and/or resolve the issues. At an organisational level, be open to criticism, complaint and feedback. Be prepared to address issues at the bigger picture/system level. Involve staff in the creation and implementation of solutions.
Remember, whilst there is no such thing as a perfect organisation, we can always seek better!