Your next big target: wellbeing

Mental health should be at the heart of every development plan
Your next big target: wellbeing

Published in The Sunday Times 19/07/20 by Suki Thompson

Posttraumitc growth is a psychological term to describe positive personality change following traumatic life events. For many, the impact on their business during Covid-19 has been traumatic. We have seen redundancy, salary cuts, new ways of working and for many leaders, little or no holiday.  We have all felt grief, anger, hope, and fear, but in different ways and at different times.

 Companies that have survived the past four months can experience their own posttraumatic growth. But they will need to invest as much time, focus and budget in the wellbeing of their people as they do on control of their costs and finances.

 At Let’s Reset, the company I founded last year to help companies create cultures with wellbeing and resilience on the balance sheet, we have trained more than 2,500 people during the lockdown, from FTSE chief executives to recent graduates. We support their emotional engagement alongside a greater focus on commercial outcomes to increase performance.

 Two human behaviours to emerge during the pandemic strike me as particularly positive. First, a much greater degree of kindness. Second, the new levels of resilience we have discovered. Suddenly it is commonplace to talk about our wellbeing at work. It’s OK for it not to be OK and to put support in place to manage this. Everyone has their own story:

  Rachel was dejected. She has worked 24/7 throughout the pandemic in the commercial team at a large retailer. She hasn’t had time to learn a new skill, do much exercise, or even get a suntan. She now feels that when people ask her ‘what did you do during lock-down?’, she can only say that she worked. In fact, she has worked even harder than normal for a reduced salary and hasn’t taken a day of holiday. She is exhausted. No boundaries between work and home …

 Mike, on the other hand, hasn’t worked throughout lockdown. After a few days of feeling dejected and angry, he went out on his bike every day, home schooled his children and read books for the first time in 10 years, but he is now anxious that the company might not need him back. He is concerned, as an introvert, that he is now invisible to his line manager and this will impact the promotion he was hoping to get, and the salary increase he needs to care for his growing family. 

 But already we are seeing the kindness in leaders is being replaced by a feeling of financial panic or belief that employees should be grateful that they still have jobs. The focus is naturally on cost cutting and the danger is wellbeing moves back to a tick box exercise.

 How do we stop this from happening? The answer is not the old-fashioned view of training up a few mental health first aiders. I believe it all needs to work in parallel. Alongside commercial outcomes, leadership teams need to create a culture that will enable people to perform at their best, with an empowered ambassador programme made up of a diverse group of key influencers. They need to be engaged, credible and capable of becoming champions of change.

 It is smart to co-create new roles and ways of working, providing the flexibility that people need to work effectively. Make wellbeing part of every development plan and add it to the targets; measure it in an annual engagement survey and bring flexible working onto the agenda for all.

 Most importantly, don’t leave it to line managers to make the decision. I encourage all leaders to speak out. Dame Carolyn McCall, Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn and Lord Price, the former managing director of Waitrose, and Trade Minister, have discussed their mental health with me. If you can see it, you can be it.

 Twelve years ago I had cancer for the first time. At first it was devastating, but one of the things it made me do was find a new sense of purpose: since then, I have been fortunate enough to build and sell a successful marketing business, written a book and enjoyed a fabulous career in an industry I love. Businesses that have been through a great coronavirus trauma can thrive again -- and we can experience posttraumatic growth.

This article was published in The Sunday Times 19/07/2020 It has been modified slightly for this let's reset edition.