Mental health and inclusion at work
Updated: Feb 2, 2019
It’s widely recognised that one of the greatest challenges around mental health is the level of stigma which still persists in the UK around being able to talk openly about this topic. According to a recent survey by Mind, one in six of us have experienced poor mental health during our careers, but only half of those effected feel able to talk about it at work. So why is this important when it comes to considering an inclusive working environment?
For me, there are three key reasons:
1. Filtering is exhausting (and impacts productivity)
One of the biggest challenges organisations face when they aren’t perceived by their employees to be genuinely inclusive, is that those individuals who don’t feel part of the “in group” will feel they need to filter themselves at work – and this has a huge impact on productivity. Flip this on its head and you see the impact – in their 2012 report “Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup?” Deloitte noted a significant correlation between how included employees felt and how good their performance was.
To provide a bit more context to how significant this challenge is, consider the research by Stonewall, which indicates that only 25% of LGBT+ employees feel completely comfortable being “out” at work. This means that those individuals are constantly having to filter themselves at work. For anyone who doubts how exhausting this is, try to have a conversation with someone about your weekend plans without mentioning who you’ll be with, without using gender pronouns, and without talking about where you’ll be. And then think about your deepest darkest secret, and imagine spending all day every day worrying that someone will discover it. Maintaining this level of filtering is not only completely exhausting, but incredibly stressful, which is why it comes as no surprise to learn that according to the Mental Health Foundation, members of the LGBT+ community are at much higher risk of experiencing poor mental health.
And it’s not just members of the LGBT+ community who feel the need to filter – I have two close friends who are on the autism spectrum who have not disclosed their condition to their employers because they fear they will be perceived differently or discriminated against. So a truly inclusive working environment is crucial because when it works, it means that everyone is able to bring their real selves to work, and then organisations see the benefit – according to research by Deloitte, inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80%.
2. Role Models can make all the difference
My personal view is that the reason we’ve made such headway de-stigmatising mental health issues in the UK over the last couple of years is because of visible role models, for example Prince Harry, who spoke recently about his experiences. We’ve all been in a situation where someone else has said what we’re thinking and we’ve responded “thank goodness – I thought it was just me”. That “thank goodness” feeling is amplified when it comes to role models. It’s so powerful for people to be able to see others with similar experiences to them talking about those experiences. A truly inclusive workplace enables this kind of disclosure which sparks a snowball effect from a conversational perspective. And think back to the impact of an inclusive environment when you consider the statistic from Stonewall which says that 92% of those who saw visible role models felt their organisation was inclusive, vs 52% who do not see visible role models in their organisation. Statistically significant by anyone’s standards.
3. Mental health challenges can provide a “plus”
My wonderful friend Helen Cooke runs an organisation called MyPlus Consulting, providing progressive employers and disabled students with the confidence, insight and support they need to realise new possibilities. I love the ethos behind MyPlus – essentially that a disability is not a negative – it’s a plus that gives a person something additional that makes them special; and in the case of a number of those I’ve met through the organisation, extra employable. I attended a session with MyPlus last year where I met a group of young women, all in the early stages of their career who have varying disabilities. Interestingly, none of them were the “visible” disabilities that people are sometimes more comfortable talking about. These amazing young women spoke really openly about their experiences of anxiety disorders and depression. They were, without exception, credible, personable, intelligent and extremely impressive. But more than that – these young women had their “plus” – courage in spades, resilience, outstanding organisational skills that their disabilities had created in them.
So for me, this all boils down to communication. You can’t have a truly inclusive organisation without being prepared to start a conversation, and we can’t make strides on mental health without being prepared to talk about it. Which is one of the reasons I’m so delighted to have been invited to be a panellist at the Mental Wealth Festival this autumn.
For help starting the conversation in your organisation, get in touch with us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mental Wealth Festival 2018 takes place 10th-11th September in London. You can book tickets here.