Mental Health Awareness Week should inspire real cultural change in organisations, argues MediaCom UK's Josh Krichefski.
In its third national mental health at work survey, published in October 2018, Business in the Community (BITC) acknowledged that organisations have made huge strides around mental health, both in terms of awareness and action, and that employers are increasingly taking an active role in supporting good mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
However, the research also demonstrated that the prevalence and impact of mental health issues are severe and concluded that employers need to ramp up the breadth and quality of support they are providing.
Changing your culture
So what can employers do in real terms to ensure that the conversations had during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May) translate into tangible actions that benefit the UK workforce?
The truth is that small interventions that focus on reducing stress – such as offering employees weekly yoga sessions or access to mindfulness apps – can help, but they are insufficient in themselves. True progress requires organisations of all sizes to address the causes of poor mental health at work and to invest time – and, at points, money – in rethinking their culture and ways of working.
When I say culture change, I’m not necessarily talking about overhauling the values of the business. This is more about an organisation evolving its attitudes and its daily routines in order to create a more open and empathetic environment.
In practical terms, it means organisations developing bespoke support programmes tailored to suit their individual workforce. A positive step could be introducing training sessions to educate managers about mental health and how to offer support. The BITC found that “lack of high-quality mental health training for managers continues to be a pivotal issue”.
For example, members of the senior leadership team at MediaCom have been trained to use the right language and behaviour around mental health and to provide initial support, as well as assisting employees where issues escalate.
In addition, our Mental Health Allies programme involves volunteer staff members acting as allies on the shop floor, to listen as supportive peers to anyone who might be facing mental health issues. Trained to listen and to signpost specialist help with mental health professionals, allies add a layer of care for staff which has made a huge difference to life in their building. (link:
Another step we’ve take is to ban the sending of work emails after 7pm. This may be a small thing, but it demonstrates our genuine desire for workers to enjoy a work-life balance, encouraging people to switch off from their jobs in order to maintain their mental health.
Leaders play a big part in developing a culture that supports mental health. Authenticity is vital and the idea that effective managers or leaders must be unemotional machines is archaic and unhelpful.
The best way to change a culture is for leaders to change themselves. If we’re asking our people to be more aware and take better care of their mental health, we need to be doing that ourselves – in an honest, open and consistent way.
I don’t mean we need to keep telling people how we feel. But being comfortable to speak out when we are significantly worried, stressed – or in grip of a more serious mental health condition – is an important part of modern leadership.
As a CEO, I take it upon myself, at the beginning of every meeting, to ask each person how they are feeling. This isn’t a subtle way of finding out how busy they are but to gauge how they actually feel.
It’s completely fine if someone doesn’t want to talk to me about these things – that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve asked and there is no judgement attached to my question or stigma around individuals’ responses. Businesses need to instil an open culture that says “I understand you are here to work, but you are also here to be yourself and to enjoy what you do”.
Ultimately, we need to change the way we perceive mental health in the workplace and to create cultures where employees feel comfortable talking about serious issues such as stress and wellbeing.
We must break down the taboos, leading by example and providing bespoke training and support programmes. Put your people first, build a culture that allows them to be themselves at work and you will be a lot more likely to reach your commercial goals.