In 2008 I was the managing director of a multi-million-pound manufacturing company in Bromsgrove when we lost our youngest son Charlie. I cannot tell you how hard it is to look the part when internally you are falling apart. When a leader suffers personal setback, not only are they suffering but also their KPIs, profitability and their performance will be affected. I was googling self-help books instead of working on the books, and hoping that high heels and lipstick would hide my lack of capacity, lack of drive and the overwhelming grief. No one offered support. Thankfully, I asked for it and my GP was amazing. My boss didn’t ask me back to work quickly and, on the contrary, afforded me as much time as I needed. As a leader, we can be expected to be invincible with our underpants on the outside of our trousers! We are not superheroes. We are human.
My Mum was my business mentor and an incredible heart-led leader, firm but incredibly fair and compassionate. When I began to take on leadership roles within the same company, I followed her example. People came before everything and trust was at the centre of everything we did. This meant that we could all be open about our states of mind and when I needed it most everyone gave me their support in spades. At that time, only 12 years ago -we were very unique…mental health in the workplace was a subject everyone would avoid at all costs.
We are getting much better at recognising the signs of mental stresses and strains but the statistics prove there is still a long way to go. Having companies like Altruist Enterprises and GuruYou™ within a business develops a culture of understanding and knowledge thus reduces the negative impacts on a business or a team that maybe there would be without that support or awareness.
There is much we can do as leaders to improve our workplace culture that brings no cost at all to the business. Here are my top 5!
1. 10 @ 10 meetings. Every day at 10am I have a 10-minute meeting with my team and always have done -way back since my days with British Airways when my team was huge! Checking in with the team gives a leader a good idea of where everyone is mentally and what their professional challenges are for the day ahead.
2. Listen. This costs nothing but your time but if you are preoccupied with your own “stuff”, it comes across and there is nothing more devaluing to a human being than not being listened to. If you find yourself drifting into your own space then ask yourself the colour of the person’s eyes. This will help you focus your attention back to them.
3. School day meetings. Make sure all your major meetings are held within core school hours so that your team feel accommodated and supported in order to meet their own family needs if necessary. The pressure is usually on women to be apologetic and leave. I remember this all too well and making this small step means all parents can be there when required and are not made to feel ashamed for doing so.
4. Do not make a big gesture of gratitude for people working long hours. In a subtle way as a leader if you make public acknowledgements of this you are encouraging it and placing pressure on others to do the same to receive the same positive feedback.
5. Create wellbeing ambassadors. These will be on hand for anyone returning to work following a difficult or life changing event. If these ambassadors are trained by Altruist Enterprises…even better! Make sure that those returning to work following loss or a significant event have people on hand to check in on them and ensure they have all they need to do their job to the best of their ability. I have a cheesy saying that performance thrives in happy lives! Remember when you were happy in your life, you were probably firing on all cylinders at work!... In contrast with a time in your life when you were not happy…performance likely suffered.
Leaders are not Duracell Bunnies, and expecting them to go on and on will result in burn out at best. Supporting mental health in the workplace will reap enormous benefits and it is no coincidence that those who do it best are the most profitable. Good employees are attracted and retained due to progressive programmes. Young law associates for example, are not in a hurry to make senior partner, these days they are more motivated by knowing what their prospective employer will do to ensure strong well-being and balance!
We know from our surveys that 75% of senior leaders will not go to a HR executive or internal coach with issues of a personal nature that could be affecting their work, especially in the legal and financial sectors where I spend most of my time. Therefore, building a culture of understanding and knowledge is fundamental to improving this reluctance to admit vulnerability. Many of my clients are hugely relieved when they can say what is on their mind outside of the business arena and to discover they are not alone in their grief, their imposter phenomenon, their co-dependant challenges etc. Having the time and space to consider how to build resilience around these challenges means they can function more easily and feel far more valued by their employer.