Mental health in the workplace – Why you, the boss, matter most!

Mental health and leadership
Picture shows dictionary entry of the word leadership.

World Mental Health Day passed me by in a blur of tissues, hot lemon and honey and self-pity. I had planned on a less lurgy-ridden blog. I had looked forward to seeing the different campaigns on social media. I was all excited that finally, society’s mental wellbeing was on the menu!

But my daughter became unwell, and then myself. My own mental health hit the decks after a week of being sofa-bound. I wasn’t well enough for many of the strategies I use daily to keep myself mentally well. I told my boss I was too ill to work. And I missed out on a Sarah Millican gig (so essential for mental health!).

And then it hit me.

I told my employer I was too ill to work. And I didn’t spin into a pit of anxiety about work. Because I trust them.

I’m embarrassed to admit this… But in 14 years of working in healthcare and wellbeing, I have never taken a sick day off work without experiencing huge anxiety. I’ve gone into work ill far too many times to mention. Don’t we all? If off sick, I will try to work at home. I’ll always worry. I’ll always expect to be judged. Despite high productivity and performance levels, excellent exam outcomes etc.

Clinicians don’t get ill, do they?

Part of this comes from the presenteeism so rife in the NHS. I’ll never forget one manager boasting of how he drove into work with a broken leg. Part of this comes from neglecting my own health and wellbeing in the past (clinicians and nurses are particularly prone to this too). But part of it comes from the examples set by the bosses and role models I’ve had in the workplace.

Many organisations boast about their employee wellbeing campaigns. They hold mental health awareness days, with cake and flyers. They have employee support helplines. They have fair sickness policies. They have good occupational health support in place. But does any of this have any impact if your employees can’t be honest with you?

If you’re reading this, and you’re the boss, a senior role model, a leader or a decision maker, ask yourself if you set a good example?

Do you openly talk about both physical and mental health? Are you open about your own needs? Do you ask your employees if they’re well? And remind them of the importance of their health? Do you go home if you’re unwell? Do you take time off on holiday? Do you ask employees what they need? And give them the confidence to tell you? Good mental health in the workplace begins with the very basics of how you lead your team.


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