8th October 2020

Being more human at work

26th May, 2019

Stacy Thomson

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to launch The Performance Club?

At heart, I am a mental health nurse, and I still work proudly in the NHS. In the summer of 2014, I was coaching in the NHS and dating a banker. You could say he opened my eyes to what it was like inside the corporate world. It fascinated me. In fact, it still does.  


My years of experience, in addition to observing our current mental health climate, led me to launch The Performance Club. This is a consultancy that aims to bridge the gap between performance, wellbeing and mental health.  


Underlining it all is the fact that we do not receive any psychological or human behaviour education. I find this crazy considering its ultimate impact on our daily lives.


Observing and understanding the human behaviour and personalities (with all our complexities) that enrich our organisations is both educational and a privilege.


Since my consultancy began, I have had the opportunity to work alongside some of the catalysts which are helping to reduce the stigma, as well as some amazing organisations and individuals who are at the forefront of mental health. This included Mad World.


Our team is mostly clinicians or subject experts. We deliver education around fundamental concepts, which most people would only be able to access if they were experiencing a mental health issue.  


Building our human toolbox is key. Mental health can be great, just as it can be painful. Helping organisations to figure this out is also an essential part of who we are.


What are some of the common challenges that employers are facing when they come to you for your help?

It’s great to see that increasingly, organisations are looking to do something to support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees. However, often they do not know what to do. Or, they have implemented initiatives, but engagement has been low and culture remains unchanged.


Furthermore, I believe that mental health has become rather ‘trendy’ and overly ‘commercialised’. Knowing who to work with can be difficult, with many claiming to be experts.  


Interventions are often reactive based (even the ones which suggest awareness) as they are symptom based and are therefore potentially aimed at the few rather than the many.  


One of my roles is to help organisations to figure out how they can use mental health positively to get the very best from their employees by developing the ‘human’. Working with organisations to gain an understanding of human behaviour and the overall employee journey, we can begin to implement mental health interventions through education, self-awareness and toolbox building. This is an essential part of my role. It cannot only change the lives of the individuals but in fact overall culture.


What kind of improvements are you able to help your clients put in place?

One of things we look at is the narrative in which the organisation talks about and thinks about mental health.  


Catering for the whole workforce is key when it comes to mental health. For example, leadership, learning and development, and talent programmes are all heavily influenced by mental health, yet we often overlook them, as they are not often seen as interventions.


These easy wins can be critical and really make a difference especially if we are looking to address external and more importantly in my view internal stigma.


We also work with organisations to implement educational programmes aimed at biopsychosocial development of staff over time. We tailor programmes to the workforce with the aim of drip-feeding information around mental health as needed, with the fundamentals at the core.  


We also help leaders and board executives understand their own mental health, influence and blueprint within the organisation – getting people at the top interested, engaged and on board is essential.


How are your clients able to track ROI of investment in mental health and wellbeing programmes and what kind of ROI are you seeing?


Many organisations are desperate to track ROI with regards to such programmes. However, what I am seeing is that this focus is on the measurement of ill health rather than those in the business who are thriving.  


For example, we will concentrate heavily on the percentage of employees who are unhappy or stressed, without considering the percentage who report differently.  


I believe we are missing an opportunity to measure and demonstrate good mental health in the business. There is a great amount of compassion and kindness that is going under reported.  


Furthermore, if we are always looking to identify negative attributes, what is the message we are conveying about mental health?


Many of the initiatives out there (as they are new) currently do not have enough evidence to suggest they work – plus ill health, suicide and referrals to the NHS continue to increase.  


We often do not need to re-invent the wheel – many stress management interventions, that have been used in occupational psychology settings for many years such as Stress Inoculation Training (SIT) are, in my view, still relevant. This is where we will see the highest ROI.  


What do you anticipate are some of the problems coming up the pipeline when it comes to Gen Z entering the workforce and what implications does this have for employers?

Many great things have evolved over the last few decades, but I have to say we have severely neglected our human side.  


In the quest for perceived happiness and success, we have become somewhat lost in our desire to have the perfect life.  


I would class the predominant issues I am seeing with our younger generation as perfectionism type behaviour. This includes issues with self-acceptance, intolerance and emotional dysregulation.


However, these are just some of the psychological issues we face. Whether we like it or not, it is not just the working world which has changed but also the way in which we live and interact with the world overall. Whilst that has provided many opportunities, it also threatens to derail us and to increase our fears.  


We often live in our heads (or spend most of our time staring at a screen), unconsciously aware of how our lives are manipulated and influenced by the activity and environments we choose to surround ourselves with.  


Talent teams are employed to attract and keep talent. However, in my view this often feeds intolerant behaviour, which overall does not help our younger generations.  


I believe we should increase the tolerance of our employees first. The reality is that life is painful at times - we do not get things we want or think we should have. With consumerism telling us that we can have what we want, when we want it, it is hardly surprising that this has conditioned our way of thinking.


These are issues that are not only relevant to Gen Z. The high expectations we place on ourselves and on others, as well as the constant need to have our demands and needs met, are just some of the issues we face in the workplace.  


Furthermore, we now have a heightened fear response (no longer do we fear just the lion, we also fear the prospect of the lion). Fear of judgement and negative evaluation causes us to externalise our own behaviours, thoughts and beliefs.  


I believe that teaching needs to be an essential part of the employee journey. With that comes the education of self.


How would you like to see the fast-evolving workplace mental health and wellbeing sector develop?

First, I would like to see an increase in the amount of mental health clinicians in this space. We need these to deliver the educational element, based on fundamental psychological principles.  


As a preventative intervention, this will supplement all the great work that is out there with regards to storytelling and more support/help seeking initiatives.


I would also like to see a holistic approach being taken to mental health in the workplace. More people need to understand that we are fallible human beings. Mental health is woven into all of facets of our daily lives - by welcoming it in and embracing it we can truly begin to be ‘more human’.

Stacy Thomson

Stacy Thomson is Founder and CEO of The Performance Club, which provides mental health consultancy and education to organisations. She is also a member of the Mad World Summit Advisory Board. Here Stacy shares her thoughts on the challenges employers are facing, how these can be overcome and how to prepare for the next generation entering the workforce.

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