Yesterday I went to a breakfast event inspired by “Let’s Reset” – a new book by Suki Thompson. The book highlights the relationship between mental health and business success. It was created because talking about mental health is still taboo for most of us.
In the book, Suki interviews more than 80 public figures, including Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn and the comedian, Russ Kane (who’s talked openly about his social media addiction). Yesterday, Suki (right in the photo) was joined by former Amplifi CEO Pippa Glucklich (left).
A new normal
Pippa told her personal story, which was about struggling to cope with workplace “normality” following the tragic death of her husband three years ago.
“There I was, turning up to work, compartmentalising myself, playing my usual roles – work Pippa, mum Pippa,” she says. “But I realised I was a completely different person.
“I crashed and burned. I took 3 months off. I felt embarrassed. It wasn’t my story. I was suddenly ‘tragic widow Pippa’. I kept asking myself, how can I have been so obsessed with work and the pitch not to have known that he was struggling?
“The reactions of other people were hard. They look away, don’t say anything, I felt like they were always treading on eggshells around me. It would have been easier if they’d said something to me, even if it was ‘I don’t know what to say’!
“Now I realise, I’m still a leader, I just lead differently.
“Now I say, you never know what’s happening to people on the inside. Others would have looked at us and said, ‘there’s a happy family’. But you never know what’s going on with people’s lives.
“I realise that for people to thrive at work they need to feel psychologically safe”.
It’s good to talk
Suki backed Pippa’s story up with evidence, citing examples of companies seeing a positive return on investment for giving better mental health support to employees.
She mentioned a report from PwC and Vitality which found that companies’ performance improves if they focus on building social resilience – creating a sense of connection and belonging for people at work. (Need to check with Suki but I think it’s this one).
I noted down something about every one of us gaining back 21 days (a year? a lifetime?) if our leadership style is open and communication is good – again, I’ll have to double check.
“Enjoy turning your back on things, not immediately answering everything,” says Suki. “Enjoy being creative. Take time to breathe. And bring your whole self to work. We need to get used to talking about the challenges we have as well as the successes.”
Pippa recommends Upping your Elvis – a great company that runs workshops for teams and leaders to help them get rid of bad habits and be more open, collaborative and energetic. She also loves the advice in How to Go to Work – a new book by Lucy Clayton and Stephen Haines.
On a broader level, Suki recommends following KPMG’s Rise of the Humans series, which addresses mental health as part of the emerging relationship between people and artificial intelligence (AI) and urges business leaders “to conduct conversations for a higher purpose: to identify the dilemmas, challenges and key considerations that will shape the future workforce”.
(Aka, if we’re going to be competing / collaborating with bots, we need to get our sh*t together!)
But it’s not just about celebrities and people in the public eye, it’s about how we protect and look after the next generation. From Caroline Flack last week to Molly Russell last year to Pippa’s husband three years ago, no-one should need to suffer emotional stress in silence, or feel they’re completely alone.
It’s ironic that today, with all our social media networks and 2.5 billion people logging into Facebook, people can feel more isolated than ever. We need to empathise more and judge less, and use the tools at our disposal better.
Yesterday I asked Pippa what her best advice was for today’s teenagers. Amidst everything else they have to deal with, how can we help them to not repeat the same mistakes when they start work in a few years time?
She said “Let them know it’s ok not to be ok”.
Pippa’s advice reminded me of the GDS poster about workplace culture, it’s ok to say what’s ok. And also the value of leaders creating their own open and honest “user guides to me” (if you’re interested, try Cassie Robinson’s great template).
We need to be as truthful as we can about our vulnerabilities – as much with ourselves as with others – to create a truly collaborative culture.