This might sound controversial, but I’m really not sure how I feel about all this mental health policy stuff and whether it’s being done for the right reasons in the majority of cases. This is very much a strong opinion weakly held, so I’m open to having my mind changed if you feel inclined to comment and put forth an alternative view.
Just to be clear, I have no beef with the concept itself and feel certain it can be a force for good if applied correctly and meaningfully, but I suspect, at least on some level, it’s a case of companies jumping on the bandwagon and riding the hot ticket for disingenuous purposes.
Or perhaps worse, it’s a sign that the business world has accepted intense psychological distress as an inevitable part of modern working life — a cost of doing business — and regards a mental health policy as a substitute for (and easier fix than) introducing preventative measures.
Either way, my LinkedIn feed has been awash this year with companies advertising how caring and sharing they are by introducing “stress buddy” systems and similar box-ticking HR guff as if workplace stress is a new phenomenon they’ve just uncovered and are leading the fight against.
While it’s definitely a good thing that business “leaders” are seemingly, and at long last, acknowledging that stress, anxiety and mental wellbeing in the workplace are real issues that need to be taken seriously — and not signs of weakness — I’m saddened that they feel it requires a “policy” to tell one human being how to behave when another human being has reached or appears to be reaching their limit.
Are we such process-dependent sheeple that unless a mandate has been passed down from on high, we feel powerless to intervene when we sense that something isn’t right? Are the tell-tale signs really that hard to spot?
I really don’t see why these self-styled business role models and mentor figures should be congratulated or celebrated for finally seeing what’s been so blindingly obvious to those on the shopfloor for quite some time.
If you genuinely feel that you need a mental health policy, perhaps you should be asking whether your company culture is fostering career psychopaths who only care about achieving their goals and have no idea what to do when they start to struggle or recognise that a colleague might need some support?
Which raises another question… Can a mental health policy be truly effective without the kind of in-depth training and experience that’s required to properly identify, diagnose and counsel people suffering from stress-induced psychological issues? Sure, it looks great in your corporate PR pack and might even help you bag a ‘Best Employer’ award, but is it really solving the problem or contributing to its prevention?
Regardless of policy and perceived enlightenment, admitting to suffering from stress has a certain stigma attached to it in most company cultures (particularly more competitive ones), so it tends to be something that’s covered up by the sufferer until they’ve reached the breaking point.
Prevention is better than cure, so how can we create workplace environments that don’t chew people up and spit them out — negating the need for self-serving mental health policies?
This may be a simplistic view, but isn’t the answer simple? If you give people worthwhile and interesting work to do in a culture that isn’t built on fear of failure/under-performing/being shat on by colleagues who are trying to climb the greasy career pole, where they’re sufficiently rewarded (regardless of age) for the value they’re delivering, with ample opportunity to grow, develop and advance in their role, then motivation, satisfaction, a sense of purpose and general happiness will be the natural byproduct.
You might think that’s a naïve or utopian assessment, but is it really so far-fetched to suggest a business takes care of its human resources, especially when most companies these days want us to believe they’re a “family”?
Focus on building a brand that’s people-centric in every way (think B Corp ethics, with sustainable growth and employee empowerment at its core), avoiding the gimme-more-more-more managers and boiler room cultures they cultivate, and you won’t need a policy for dealing with stress, anxiety and burnout as they’ll no longer exist; or at least, everyday worries and pressures will not escalate to a level where an in-house psychologist is required.
You’ll also find that curbing your obsession with excessive growth while giving your people a meaningful purpose and esprit de corps will result in your business reducing its environmental impact, attracting and retaining the best talent, and creating an infectious enthusiasm around your product or service.
It’s not necessarily a case of putting people before profits either. To put it another way, and quoting the late, great San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Bill Walsh, get your leadership right and “The Score Takes Care of Itself”. Now if that’s not a reason for everyone to feel less stressed…