This morning whilst perusing the tabloids I came across an article that highlighted a CEO’s response to a staff member taking two days leave to manage her mental health. His response was perfect. He applauded her for her insight, for her openness and for cutting through the stigma of mental health and allowing us to bring our whole self to work.[1] I asked myself why is this news? Have we moved so little in our thinking about mental health, yes mental illness, that we are still afraid to disclose to our peers, bosses and others that we might be struggling?

Mental health is a continuum; on one end we have good mental health, capacity and resilience, on the other end we have illness manifesting itself in any number of ways for example anxiety, depression or a sense of being overwhelmed. Each of us has the capacity to move along that continuum at any time. Why some move more than others is a question for the researchers.

As a CEO my job is to build a culture where good and poor mental health is part of the business discourse, part of a culture where support and acceptance is in the DNA of the business. One would think that it would be easier for me given ICLA is a provider of support services for people suffering mental illness but I am not quite sure that is the case.

There are strategies that every leader can employ in order to break down this insidious barrier to acceptance and build a strong and inclusive culture. You may ask with all my competing demands as a leader why do I need to put this at the top of the list? Why, because good mental health is good for business. An inclusive and accepting culture can lead to reduced absenteeism and turnover rates and increased positive performance. It is not to simple to say a happy workforce leads to happy customers.

Research tells us that there are six key areas that workplaces can focus on to drive change. Building resilience is important and we can achieve this by training, mentoring and coaching. Undertaking smarter work design by providing flexibility and opportunities for involvement is an important pillar. Supporting recovery by offering return to work opportunities and providing support and training to supervisors is pivotal to reengaging individuals. Undertaking early intervention activities such as offering EAP may help to deescalate episodes.  It goes without saying building a better culture and increasing awareness  are key underpinnings to driving the change of acceptance.[2]

Ultimately what we want as a CEO is a happy, healthy and engaged workforce with high productivity and job satisfaction. We know if we have this business improves and customer satisfaction increases. There is much we can do in our roles to make that happen. I would encourage all business leaders to employ some of the strategies suggested here and better still become informed about creating a mentally healthy workplace. A great place to start is by joining the Heads Up community at www:headsup.com.au.

[1] Donnelly K, 2017, MSN Australia,  accessed July 12 2017, http://www.msn.com/en-au/health/medical/madalyns-explanation-for-her-day-off-work-has-started-an-important-conversation/ar-BBEdH6N?li=AAgfDNO

[2] Mental Health Commission, Creating Mentally Healthy Workplaces – A review of the literature, accessed July 12 2017, http://www.mentalhealthcommission.gov.au/media/116332/Creating%20Mentally%20Health%20Workplaces%20-%20A%20review%20of%20the%20research.pdf.