May 10th - 16th marks Mental Health Awareness week and for many, the topic may be more personally relevant this year than it might have been in other years. The pandemic and resulting lockdown has seen many of us testing the boundaries of our coping mechanisms, and perhaps exploring what it is that we need to be content. Sadly, mental health is too often a taboo subject that we shy away from discussing, but I have never heard so many open admissions from family, friends and colleagues that they are struggling as I have over the past year. So as COVID 19 has fast forwarded us through time in terms of flexible working, so too it may have in terms of removing the stigma around discussing our mental health, but there’s still more work to do.
I believe that as an employer our role is to create an environment where our people can fulfil their potential. This means looking after our wellbeing as much as creating opportunities for role growth. In November 2019, our Human Resources team introduced the Wellness LiveWell program, which is something we had never done before. I have encouraged everyone to take part in the various webinars and events, even those who don't believe it relevant to their personal situations, because there’s lots of great stuff to learn in a broader context - like how you can contribute to the collective wellbeing. For example, one of my key takeaways from a session was that a characteristic of high performance teams is that members feel safe to express ideas without fear of criticism and to fail without fear of blame – i.e. there is an environment of trust. Every one of us is part of a team, so every one of us can contribute to that. And if we are to relate that back to this week’s topic, that also means creating an environment where team members are able to express if they’re feeling overwhelmed, without fear of judgement or receiving negative consequences. With respect to how to do this, Brené Brown (researcher, author, TED talker) believes good leaders demonstrate their own vulnerabilities – admit their mistakes, ask for help, apologise and acknowledge that they don’t always have all the answers. Of course you don’t have to be in a leadership role to adopt these behaviours. Depending on your leadership/communication style this might be uncomfortable, but from my own experience the resulting two way flow of communication and honesty is well worth the discomfort.
Another thing I have observed over the pandemic is that, in the absence of the ability to do much else, work can occupy a disproportionate amount of our time and headspace. Without the patchwork of activities that make up our normal lives and contribute to our sense of contentment, work might have become a bit all-encompassing, with contentment levels hinging solely upon it. We’re missing the chats in the kitchen, thrashing ourselves in the gym, and games of pool, snooker and chess to break up the daily grind and relate with other humans on non-work subjects. Human Resources has set up some great virtual initiatives to try and redress the balance - Coffee mornings, Boxing, HIIT, Personal Training and Yoga sessions, as well as the Mako fun and wellbeing Slack channels. These might not be for everyone, but being disciplined about boundaries, taking breaks, spending time in nature and making time for something you enjoy can greatly contribute to wellbeing and maintaining a sense of perspective. It sounds cliché and basic, and it is, but it works.
The more cynical readers won’t miss the self/business interest in this. Better mental health in the workplace also contributes to fewer sick days, fewer resignations, fewer missed deadlines and better productivity. But we are blessed at Mako in that it genuinely is a great place to work. If we are to maintain our treasured familial culture as we scale up, we need to make a conscious effort to look out for each other, and ourselves. So this week I encourage you to take the time not only to reflect on how you’re looking after your own wellbeing, but also how you can contribute to that of others and have open conversations about mental health. It really is as simple as asking “Are you OK?”.