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When it comes to mental health, culture trumps policy every time

Posted on 12/08/2020
by Chris Hart

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Mental health is being discussed publicly more and more, especially at the moment. It’s about time. The conversation has been long overdue.

But mental health is not a marketing or PR exercise. 

The cynic in me can’t help but roll my eyes at the videos and posts from companies on social media who preach how important Mental Health is to them and their business. You only see said videos and posts when there is a National Mental Health Day or Week. And once it’s over, they put the PR pack away until the next one. It’s almost as if the marketing team have the days marked in their calendars. 

(I did say I was cynical.)

At least the conversation is happening though, that’s a start. It just needs to become genuine and not because there is an opportunity for a hashtag.

And the time for it to become genuine is now.

Many people are returning to offices. For some, this will be both welcome and unwelcome in equal measure. Even those that may have laughed off mental health issues before have likely experienced some form of anxiety or depression in the last few months. Businesses need to be doing more.

We spend most of our week at work, and for those who will be going back to workplaces, they will be spending more time at work than with their families, flatmates and friends. And there is nothing worse than spending most of your time in an environment that you do not feel mentally safe in.

You may be a business owner or director reading this with the confidence that your staff feel mentally safe because you have policies in place. But, if you do not have the culture, your policies are worthless. 

Polices do not create culture; culture creates policies.

You can sit with HR and have as many meetings as you like and create countless policies, but if you do not have the culture to begin with, your staff will not and do not believe in you or your policies to keep them mentally safe.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you publicly shut down any stigma or derogatory comments related to mental health issues?
  • Do you have a mental health sick leave policy?
  • Do you think your staff are even honest about taking time off for mental health issues?
  • Do you run an open-door culture when it comes to mental health?
  • Do you have publicly displayed resources for helplines? Whether it is posters up on the wall, on the company website or in the employee handbook?
  • Do you have regular open conversations about mental health issues at work? Whether in groups or in 1-2-1s.
  • Have you identified the areas of your business and parts of the job that could cause mental health issues?
  • Do you only talk or post about mental mealth when there is a national day or week?

Those questions may have been hard for you to answer, which is the point. And if they were, if they were a bit of an eye opener, then it is time to rip up those dusty old policies, if you have any, and get working on creating the culture. Your people will not feel safe because you have policies, they will feel safe if you have the culture.

It will not happen overnight, but start having some open conversations, talk about the stresses the job brings, the anxieties it may cause. Ask for opinions, ask for suggestions, run anonymous surveys, involve your people. 

Just get talking.

Your policies should then come organically from the culture you create.

Chris Hart is a Team Lead at Client Server. 


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