As growing numbers of companies launch programmes to tackle increasing stress and anxiety among their workers, Rich Goddard explores the role that corporations could play in addressing those issues in society at large
For as long as western society can remember, we’ve just accepted it as normal when people feel like crap at work. Mondays are depressing. We lose sleep over deadlines. And if you even dare talk to me before I’ve had coffee, I swear to God I’ll explode/cry/hide in the bathroom.
That’s just how it is. You drink your way out of it on Friday and the cycle continues. Better get used to it.
Or maybe don’t. It’s taken a while, but now it seems that everybody’s talking about mental health. Celebrities are skyping about it. Governments are changing policy on it. And companies are beginning to realise that taking the edge off of the weekly grind can actually work in everyone’s favour.
In one study, 84% of workers were shown to have experienced problems such as stress, anxiety and depression, to which work had contributed
There are various statistics flying around on the state of mental health in the workplace. But, by and large, the feeling is that we’ve been doing it all wrong. In one study, 84% of workers were shown to have experienced problems such as stress, anxiety and depression, to which work had contributed. To add to the strain, over two-thirds said they don’t feel comfortable bringing this kind of thing up with their line managers.
If that wasn’t incentive enough for employers to do something about it, further research shows that poor mental health has a negative effect on productivity; estimated to cost $260 billion annually to the US economy, equal to $1,600 on average, per worker. Investing in staff’s mental health is said to give an average return of around 4:1. Ultimately, tackling mental health makes business sense.
With this in mind, many of the world’s major corporations have been putting mental health higher up the priority list. Unilever and Virgin are two of many early adopters to introduce policies such as company-wide mental health education programmes, ongoing coaching support and digital apps or platforms for staff to track their mental and physical wellbeing.
But just as everyone takes the stresses of life into the office, it’s not uncommon to take work home with them, too. In broader society, one in four adults experiences a mental illness each year, suffering to varying degrees in ways that often impacts those closest to them. In almost all cases, opening up and talking about it is the first step to alleviating the problem. Sounds simple. The only thing is, nobody’s been doing that.
Time to call in the celebs. From Lady Gaga, to Prince William and Ed Sheeran, the world’s biggest names have been sharing their own stories, aiming to remove the stigma on mental health and actively campaigning to raise awareness.
With celebs on board and mental health rising even higher in the public conversation, corporations are beginning to prioritise the issue beyond the HR department, promoting it in marketing, advertising and consumer-facing communications.
McVitie’s has partnered with mental health charity Mind in the Let's Talk campaign; encouraging emotion-dodging Brits to engage in conversation
In one UK example, United Biscuits’ McVitie’s brand has partnered with mental health charity Mind in the Let's Talk campaign; encouraging emotion-dodging Brits to engage in conversation and social connection over a cup of tea and a biscuit. The partnership extends into McVitie’s staff mental health policy, while funding Mind's own initiatives. But perhaps most significantly, this is one of the earlier examples of mental health being used as a key message in brand communications.
Another mental health charity leading the way is male suicide charity CALM, whose CEO, Simon Gunning is a former media executive. Partnerships with Unilever's Lynx and Arcadia's Topman have brought unprecedented funding and awareness of CALM’s cause, while providing positive and relevant associations for its corporate partners.
So what more can be done and how can companies stay ahead?
It may be worth comparing the increasing conversations around mental health with those of recent years on social justice and equality. Celebrity endorsements, combined with movements like #metoo and Black Lives Matter, have increased awareness and prioritised social equality, in the minds of consumers, employees and the public at large.
Nowadays, it’s common for multinational brands to hold a dedicated post to lead diversity and inclusion (D&I). Many maintain ongoing partnerships, contributing towards not only their own workforce, but the communities and audiences they impact around the world. For brands like Barclays and Nike, D&I is now not only a consideration for HR, but a core value and integral part of the company’s mission.
Those watching the mental health trend should take note. The more celebrity engagement, the more hashtags mental health attracts, the more of a priority mental health will become, for consumers, for employees and for the bottom line.
The Lancet Commission reported that mental health disorders are on the rise in every country in the world and could cost the global economy up to $16trn by 2030
Aside from the business benefits, corporations have the ability to influence mental health on a far greater scale than only that of their employees. Mental health issues affect different cultures, in different ways and to varying degrees, across the many international territories in which these companies operate. The Lancet Commission reported last year that mental health disorders are on the rise in every country in the world and could cost the global economy up to $16trn by 2030 if not addressed.
Just as climate change went under the radar for so many years, the impact of mental health issues can be easily overlooked. But with the increasing pace of societal and technological change, the abundance of choice and the uncertainty of politics and economics, it would be fair to assume that the drivers for anxiety, depression and stress will only increase, particularly for a whole generation of young people.
Unilever and Virgin Money are, once again, two brands leading the charge. Along with Dixon’s Carphone they are founding partners of Heads Together, a UK campaign launched by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry that aims to end the stigma around mental health. Heads Together is part of how Unilever is delivering its Sustainable Living Plan, through which the company aims to help more than 1 billion people to improve their health and wellbeing.
For corporations, the benefits of addressing mental health are clear, for staff and for business. But as the pressure of 21st century life becomes more complex and overwhelming, what are the benefits that corporations could bring to society at large, when mental health is woven even further into the fabric of the business?
Rich Goddard is a coach and corporate consultant, improving mental health through business. With a marketing background, he explores the many elements of 21st century life which pull our attention, focus and emotions away from us, and what we can do to bring it all back. www.richgoddard.co