Q1. Our first and most important question is, how are you doing today?
I’m doing great!
Q2. That’s always good to hear! Let’s get straight into it. As someone who strongly advocates for workplaces to reduce the stigma around mental health, what are the key challenges that organisations are facing when it comes to staff wellbeing at work?
The answer is two-fold here. The first challenge is that many people still regard mental health as mental illness – and that’s not the case at all. Our mental state is constantly on the front lines when it comes to our day to day productivity and that clear definition needs to be made. Which leads into the second issue. Many organizations feel if they tackle this subject at the workplace it blurs the line of professionalism and personal matters. However, that is no longer the case. That world where we leave our lives at home and only bring our ‘work’ persona to the job is no longer in existence – because we have integrated the two lives. People are working on their off days/weekends – and work/life balance has merged into work/life integration. Which means organizations can not hide behind that reasoning anymore – and need to evaluate how to incorporate mental health into their wider People strategy.
Q3. Diversity is so often ‘achieved’ by a tick box exercise. What is the true meaning of diversity to you? – Diversity means when the minority groups at the workplace no longer have to conform themselves and can bring their true authentic selves to work. This doesn’t mean their race or sexual orientation – because that is not something that can be truly hidden. Organizations often think if you hire people of colour and of LGBT+, then the work staff is diverse. That is not the full picture. True diversity is learning what experiences these diverse people have had in their life – and how they can bring a different take on contributing to the bottom line. Hiring a diverse workforce is merely the first step – an important step however it is not even the tip of the iceberg. Representation only matters to a certain extent because it does not illustrate someone’s true diversity – because that’s all external. Race, gender, and sexual orientations are all identities that are unethical to dismiss.
Q4. What tips do you have for businesses to help develop their thinking in this area? – Often, people of diverse backgrounds feel they are not heard at the workplace. Their specific challenges at the workplace are often dismissed and categorized as development points. However, managers and senior leadership need to invest in why someone from India has a different management approach than someone from Brazil. One solution is to schedule training sessions conducted by professionals who are experienced in dealing with various cultures and demographics so new business solutions can be generated, before easily providing “constructive” feedback as a gap in one’s gravitas (as an example). Another example is to make conscious efforts to change a standardized framework for professionals. Every company has one – in order to rate their employees. However, diverse culture means diverse upbringings. Person A and Person B may reach the same result, however, their process is different – and that journey matters. Companies need to recognize that and allow that change in their framework or else they will not reach their diversity benchmark. You will just be cloning your diverse workforce to work like the majority – which is robotic and uncreative.
Q5. What strategies have you seen developing in the UK over the past 6-12 months to address mental health in the workplace? As a whole, more focus has been given to mental health at the workplace as organizations realize the stress and high level of demands have taken a toll on their workforce. Deloitte’s global stats on how poor mental health costs the UK £42b-45bn a year has made many organizations focus on their internal strategies. I have had many conversations with senior leadership regarding how high costs related to presenteeism, sabbaticals, and sick leave can truly be detrimental to the business. Within my organization, I have encouraged senior leadership to have a very open and honest dialogue about the importance of mental health to their workforce. This vulnerability is key where it makes leadership human, and that connection is made between employer and employee. After these initial small but very important steps, we were able to bring in external psychologists for 1:1 therapy and host a series of webinars on mental health-related topics such as anxiety, depression, and burn-out. We introduced a network of Mental Health First Aiders and partnered up with a digital platform to provide scalable support to employees. It was through consistent messaging and varied options for the workforce that made mental health more acceptable at the workplace – truly driving a global culture change.
Q6. Are there noticeable differences between where the UK is in terms of ending the stigma of mental health at work, compared to Canada? Where are we similar/where do we differ? – I believe the UK is a bit more advanced as more and more organizations are backing the importance of it having specific mental health strategies at their workplace. I think North America as a whole can take a few tips from the UK and understand how they can make small changes to push the dial. Often, companies don’t think small changes will do much however I have seen and proved within my organization that small changes do in fact drive true change – not only for the services we provide but how people perceive mental health – slowly chipping away at the antiquated stigma. Unfortunately, whether it’s the US or Canada, speaking about mental health is perceived as a weakness – and It does not sit well within the corporate environment. I have seen various Tech companies making strides, however, more can be done as we face new challenges every day that is different from the UK.
Q7. What are you most looking forward to about speaking at our virtual Toronto and London events? – To speak about the work I have been involved in and learn about what amazing work others are doing. Change does not happen in isolation and I am really excited to collaborate and learn from others in the industry.
Q8. Tell us, what’s your vision for the workplace of the future, in terms of diversity and inclusion, mental health and wellbeing? – I hope in 20+ years’ time, people are seen more than their external attributes and taken seriously on what they can provide. I hope across all affinity groups – people are appreciated and are not forced to conform to the majority at the workplace. Mental health will be normalized as physical well-being, or even put in a higher category as we advance in society.
Q9. Covid-19 has undoubtedly had an effect on all areas of employees personal and professional lives. What are the key learnings from this period and how can we support each other through uncertainty? – We can’t solve this pandemic necessarily and there will be days that will be incredibly challenging for us a leaders – and for our employees. It’s keeping that honest conversation alive so the human connection does not wither away as we progress through these times. Even after this pandemic, we should continue to carry our empathy with our colleagues.