So, imagine being at a party but no one’s talking to you, no one offers you a drink much less nods towards the dancefloor. That feels pretty rubbish, right?
Now if this is the situation five days a week, 48 weeks a year and you’re already stressed, working long hours, tired and perhaps have a diagnosable mental health condition, imagine the cumulative impact on your health and, performance.
‘Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance,’ Verna Myers, diversity and inclusion expert.
I’m a people and culture consultant specialising in diversity and inclusion. This means I do a fair bit of work around wellbeing and mental health strategies within UK businesses from start-ups to listed giants, from creative industries to energy brands and everything in between.
I spend a lot of time evangelising about the importance of inclusion (see quote above) over and above diversity which put crudely, is the collection of measurable outcomes of a truly inclusive culture.
Inclusion Drives Workplace Wellbeing
What has become quite apparent to me through my consulting work is the golden thread running throughout those organisations showing meaningful progress on D&I.
I am on a personal mission to make workplaces more human.
I believe when leaders show humility, curiosity, empathy, an ability to listen and then act and when they organise themselves around a principle of ‘freedom within parameters,’ (people know the direction of travel but are empowered to use their insights to innovate in real-time, not squashed by process and hierarchy) then you are more likely to have engaged, well workers and, a happy CFO.
“Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed.”’ Shawn Achor, author of ‘The Happiness Advantage’
Bringing Your Whole Self to Work
If the leader and their team, set the right cultural and behavioural tone, one of inclusion, of openness to all, if that is perpetuated throughout the organisation and backed up by education, by processes that safeguard and celebrate difference, that foster a sense of belonging for everyone, ensuring each voice is heard, then you can be confident that people feel able – buzzword alert – to bring their whole selves to work.
And that, to my mind, is an excellent foundation to optimise wellbeing in the workplace. A strong basis upon which to fight whatever life throws at you, from inside or outside the workplace and the sort of environment you would expect to ‘do no harm,’ or even to be able to ‘do some good,’ for an employer to have an additive impact on their people.
If you suffer from a diagnosable, long-term mental health condition, such progressive, inclusive organisations by definition are more likely to encourage full disclosure at interview, to hire you and be better set-up to make reasonable adjustments to help you be successful once hired. I’m thinking of trail-blazing organisations like political and communications consultancy Cicero Group– look up the agency and its Executive Director Mark Twigg.
I’ve crossed paths a number of times now with Public Sector Communications Consultant, Leanne Ehren. Leanne suffered PTSD and a break-down having been part of the comms team supporting the Manchester Metropolitan Emergency Services team during the Manchester Arena bombing.
In conversation with her last month, I loved the way she framed her diagnosis as ‘cultivating a superpower.’
During her treatment and recovery, she was given the gift of deep self-knowledge and an understanding of her emotional and neurological make-up. This was then combined with a personalised toolkit kit courtesy of the excellent and varied experts she worked with.
The result? Her mental health is now her superpower!
I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by MadWorld 2019 speaker and founder of the Inside-Out Leaderboard, Rob Stephenson. Rob suffers from bi-polar disorder and publicly marks his state of mind out of 10 each morning to help him self-manage and to send a signal to those around him. He talks about periods of incredible creativity during his manic times.
Rebranding Mental Health as a Strategic Enabler
I fully support the efforts of others not least MadWorld chair 2018, Geoff McDonald, to rebrand mental health. To move away from exclusively negative connotations to a narrative more aligned with positioning mental wellness as a strategic enabler.
This message is appropriate at a human level, but ultimately, we know that mental wellness drives business performance.
Let’s talk about proactively, positively building mental wealth, self-awareness, self-management, about building supportive, inclusive teams to minimise mental health emergencies.
I want to conclude on a personal level. Last week, my husband and I spent a very special morning with our son having an ‘OT’ (occupational therapy) assessment. The therapist could not have been more human, nor more expert, and we had a collective epiphany.
It’s not the place to over-share on my son’s behalf but it felt like we’d been gifted a ‘user manual’ for him during his early years. Shouldn’t everyone be given that opportunity?
As Leanne put it, an opportunity to get such self-knowledge, such an understanding about your own mental health that it becomes a super-power, to be made to feel so included in the workplace that you are yourself and that you can be successful as a person and, as an employer.
A blueprint of self-knowledge in order to better manage your own wellbeing and mental health and to enable others to interact with you in a healthier more productive way.
Everyone wins! Humanity and society at large. Be more human!
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