In the last few years I’ve done a variety of things for Mind, attended focus groups, done a charity cycle ride and even organized my own awareness event for HR professionals. However, when they asked me to be part of their webinar for line managers my initial response was that I couldn’t do it. I’ve only been open about my own mental health for less than a year and to be on camera, as an “expert”, didn’t sit well with me.
The Mind team persisted though so yesterday I found myself in a basement room, surrounded by a battery of cameras feeling very nervous. I was lucky in that I had met everyone on the panel at least once and Paul Farmer the chief exec is a very calming presence (but then his standard day often involves TV and radio or meetings with the Prime Minister so I guess this doesn’t faze him).
We did our sound checks and before I knew it we were off. Once I got over being slightly self-conscious it became fun. A chat with three other people, all passionately committed to improving the mental health of the country. We relaxed in to our allotted roles, Karen was our policy / research guru, Emma took a strategic view of the workplace and it was my job to field questions on the nitty-gritty line management. Paul kept the conversation moving nicely, bringing us in to support each other as we moved through the audience questions.
I noticed from the questions that there remains a real fear about how to start a conversation around mental health, what words to use. I will reiterate what I said on the webinar, there is no perfect opening, no checklist of words. A clumsy start is better than no conversation at all. This is why it is so important to create the kind of workplace where staff wellbeing is a core part of how you do business. That way it is easier to start these conversations.
Which leads me on to a question about what to do if staff were having “performance issues” – (in this case the questioner thought the issues may be caused by a mental health condition but had no evidence to support this). My feeling was that regular one to ones and clear targets would nip many problems in the bud – the same as for any member of staff. Also I think it is important to note that you should never just assume that any colleague has a mental health condition – it’s better to talk to them and find out what is going on. There could be any number of reasons why their performance has dropped.
The final theme I picked up on was the idea that by making some sort of adjustment for staff with a mental health condition, you run the risk of upsetting the rest of your team. I’ve often heard this advanced as a concern by colleagues but I’ve never seen it pan out that way in real life. My top tip for this is actually to speak to everyone in the team, ask them how they would like to organize their work if they had more autonomy. Often you’ll get a bunch of great ideas without having to draw attention to any one member of staff.
I have focussed on the line management questions from the webinar but it’s fair to say that making your workplace more “mentally healthy” can solve a lot of the initial hurdles for managers. Mind publish great guides describing how best to go about this and I would say the attitude of the senior team is key in making this change – they can act as exemplars and role models.
So that was my 45 minutes of fame. I don’t think I will be troubling the judges at the Mind Media Awards any time soon and yet I really enjoyed it. I like the way that Mind is opening up a lot of social media channels to talk to people and I can bear to be on YouTube if it is going to help people get the care and assistance they need.