Photo: Paul Simpson.
Raising awareness around mental health in a business
context is a subject you could say is close to my heart, having broken my own
silence in the form of a
book charting my personal challenges last year.
So, it was encouraging to see it is also top of mind for a large turnout at the Mad World Summit in London on 9th October, which I was fortunate to attend for the second year running.
The stigma around mental health is gradually shifting and it was great to hear senior executives talking openly about encouraging employees to seek the help they need. As António Horta-Osório of Lloyds Bank tells his staff: “It’s ok not to be ok.”
Address the system, not the individual
But while we may be far better at addressing the symptoms and outcomes of mental health, in my view, the business world is turning a blind eye to some of the underlying causes.
And well it might, since our current economic system—which underpins the multinational corporation—could be a major contributing factor.
How? Well, we still see poor mental health as a failure of the individual to adapt to the system, rather than considering that it might be the system itself that needs changing.
Introducing mental health first aiders, encouraging work life balance, yoga, mindfulness and yes, even bar football in the corporate canteen are certainly “nice to haves.” But in many ways, they are mere sticking plaster solutions that enable business leaders to avoid confronting the real issues.
The need to reimagine business
I believe the solution is nothing short of reimagining the global corporation—what it does, how it does it, and for whose benefit. Such an approach demands a business transformation programme on an industrial scale. Why? The statistics don’t lie.
A vast majority of people say they do not enjoy what they are doing, nor do they believe in the company they work for. Global engagement hovers around 20%. That’s potentially just one-fifth of your organization firing on all cylinders.
With Millennials now comprising more than half the workforce, it’s worth thinking about what makes this generation tick. Their views on business paint an unhappy picture.
to Deloitte’s Global Millennial Survey 2019, about half (49%) would quit their
jobs in the next two years if they had the choice. And their opinions on the
role business plays in society is equally troubling. In 2017, just over three-quarters
(76%) believed that business had a positive impact on society—that’s plummeted
to only 55% in 2019.
Top down versus bottom up change
The need for change is clear. Who will initiate that change is less obvious.
Many of today’s business leaders were programmed to believe that success was all about grafting their way to the top of the organisation, the spoils from which would buy happiness.
Yet, as they’ve climbed toward the top of the corporate ladder, many find themselves wondering if it was placed against the right wall. Yes, they’ve had career success—but does it have any meaning?
What price have they paid in terms of family life and their own personal health? What do their achievements say about them as a human being in a wider society?
Of course, organisations need to innovate to grow and be sustainable. But if we want to foster innovation within our companies, then employees will need to be given the time and space to do it.
The constant distraction of technology, results, busy roles, and tight deadlines means that the business world is suffering from a kind of collective Attention Deficit Disorder.
Perhaps the best ideas for re-inventing business lie within the organisations themselves, through a generation of dormant changemakers and intrapreneurs in the mould of Elon Musk, Richard Branson or Sophi Tranchell.
Savvy leaders are discovering that the answer to employee disengagement may well be empowerment. Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, talks openly about his desire to “un-boss” the company.
What if employees were encouraged to slow down a little—to take the time to breathe and be creative? What if they focused less on what they’re doing and think more about where they’re going and who they’re being along the way?
Slow down to accelerate change
It’s for all these reasons and more that I decided to create the UK’s first Business ‘Decelerator’ event on the Isle of Bute in Scotland. As the region where I grew up, I know it can offer busy executives the chance to temporarily disconnect from their day jobs to reconnect with themselves.
The event is a fusion between global business, local community and the transformative power of art, music, improv comedy and nature to help individuals find a deeper sense of personal and collective purpose in the corporate world. And yes, it is also intended to spur regeneration within this rural community.
Our inaugural “taster” business decelerator took place last month in a local hotel on the island and turned out to be a tremendous success. A total of 36 people attended from large corporates such as Deloitte, Standard Chartered, Reckitt Benckiser and Accenture, to non-profits such as Clinton Health Access Initiative(CHAI).
We also welcomed five people from the local community who were given fully funded places to take advantage of the diverse participants and new thinking.
Spanning several generations, with ages ranging from 22 to 75, we deliberately blurred the boundaries not only between the backgrounds and experiences of our group but also between those leading the sessions and those attending them. It was rewarding to watch as people opened up to new possibilities for themselves and their organisations or communities.
“I was struggling and stressed when I arrived and left feeling elated and energised – result!”
Being the change
The idea behind the decelerator event is not about the benefits of office downtime or a change of scene—it has a deep, business-based rationale.
Besides the obvious boost to mental health and wellbeing, the deceleration process aims to be a catalyst for the purpose-inspired, breakthrough ideas and innovations that businesses today so badly need.
Sadly, there are no silver bullets to the current mental health crisis in the corporate world. But I’m convinced that if we have empowered employees, ready and willing to create the kind of organisations they aspire to work for, then companies will be happier, healthier and more socially relevant places to work.
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