Companies that fail to consider employees' mental health will 'struggle to thrive'

Out-Law News | 09 Oct 2020 | 8:00 am | 3 min. read

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, a banking executive has said.

Barclays managing director Philip Aiken helped to establish the Mindful Business Charter, a set of recommendations designed to combat unnecessary work pressure. He told Pinsent Masons' Brain Food For General Counsel podcast: "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."

"Attracting, training, developing people is expensive and it is hard work to find the best people. If you're unable to persuade talent that your organisation is the one where someone will thrive in a sustainable way, then it is my belief that it will become harder to attract talent to your organisation," he said. "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."

Saturday is World Mental Health Day, when organisations might be considering more deeply than usual what their obligations are to their employees' mental health.

"The workplace has had for 100 years now a very robust set of health and safety regulations which was 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," said Aiken. "And 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, discussed his own depression and the tactics he used to live with it while working under enormous pressure. One of the most radical, certainly in the 1980s when he describes having a breakdown, was being completely open about it.

Dodd Kate

Kate Dodd

Diversity and Inclusion Consultant

I think businesses sometimes get very caught up with this idea about culture changes, say well it's impossible to change a culture and of course it isn't.

"I think I have benefited from being open, even though I got a lot of flack from a lot of people politically and media wise, they were all pretty good in the main about me saying sometimes I got really badly depressed once, had a complete crack up and had a drink problem and so forth," he said. "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 told the podcast that despite working under huge pressure and in the public eye, he sometimes felt that the job was what kept him going, though he recognises that this caused issues in to 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 what would happen, 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."

Diversity and inclusion consultant Kate Dodd of Pinsent Masons told the podcast that taking better account of mental health and assessing which pressures are necessary and which are not needs culture change, but that companies should not be afraid of that process, and should accept it takes time.

"Just look at it like any other type of change. I think businesses sometimes get very caught up with this idea about culture changes, say well it's impossible to change a culture and of course it isn't. And if culture change is approached with the same type of organisation and framework as any other type of change within a business then that is a really good place to start."

"Culture change does take years, so I think it's a case of making sure that there is an acknowledgement that this is going to take time, that maybe there is a three to five year plan," she said.

Sean Elson of Pinsent Masons described his experiences of mental health and work, and warned against making easy assumptions about people based on outward appearance.

"People who haven't maybe had much experience with mental health issues might look at somebody who outwardly is wealthy, successful with a family and lots of material possessions and say 'what on earth could they possibly have to be depressed with?'," he said. "And then somebody who is in terrible circumstances might be one of the most happy go lucky people you could possibly meet."