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Many of us saw the recent news regarding Madalyn Parker taking a day off to manage her mental health and the positive response it earned from her boss. Grant Griffiths updates us on the story below. But have you wondered what you can do to help meet the demand of people and bosses responding to such stories? As a corporate employer its time to review your culture and process and seek expert help. If you are a mental wellness professional you can use your reach, influence and skill to further this message once the media storm inevitably dies down. Want to know how you might be able to achieve this? Wether its changing the corporate mindset, managing with empathy, or changing processes, The Advocacy Partnership can help. Contact us today.
In July an e-mail exchange between a woman named Madalyn Parker to her team and her CEO went viral.
Parker had written an e-mail to her team telling them she was taking two days off work “…to focus on (her) mental health.”. Her CEO, Ben Congleton responded. Madalyn Parker then shared the e-mail exchange that took place between her and her CEO, on social media.
On first hearing of this story – in fact, it was the headlines that grabbed my attention – I was expecting, at best, another case of a less than lukewarm response or even admonishment from a CEO. It had me thinking: “Oh no here we go, another bad news corporate story and a CEO being outted for mistreatment of or firing an employee, another tyrannical luddite on the loose giving bosses and his company a bad reputation”.
Life can be full of surprises
Instead the world was treated to a pleasantly surprising and refreshingly forward-thinking response from her CEO in which he congratulated her for being open and honest and for setting a good example for others; recognising that one’s mental health and well-being is just as, or even more important than one’s physical wellness takes courage and strength, days off for mental wellness are as important as days off for physical illnesses.
CEO Congleton in his response to Parker also highlighted a very important observation and that is in 2017 we are a knowledge economy, our jobs require us to perform at peak mental performance, and the brain is no different to the rest of us. All are very valid points and reflective of how we live and work today.
From Parker’s perspective coming back “refreshed and back to 100%” was important for her if she is to function with maximum effectiveness and to commit fully to her role in the company.
A powerful message and precendent
For me and many seasoned managers around the world it sent a powerful message and set a new precedent – and a new benchmark in my view – as to how leaders should act if they are serious and committed to the success of their businesses and truly believe in the importance of one of the most important assets every business has – its staff.
Managers at all levels - from top executives to team leaders - need to move with the times, realise that we’re not all the same, we all respond to the challenges of daily work life in different ways, and we all need to understand both our physical and mental limits. Sick days are not just for recovering from a cold or ‘flu, sick days are for getting ourselves rebalanced, recharged, refocussed, and well, they should be used as a circuit-breaker to disconnect us from the treadmill of the corporate and working world.
Managing your business - people risk
This story also highlighted a key risk which many organisations both large and small have struggled to address for decades, and that is how to manage some of the “people risk” factors: attracting, training, and retaining not only the brightest and the best talent, and retaining the collective knowledge base and intellectual capital of the business.
Among the key risks I hear time and again from businesses in all industries and of all sizes is “Key Person Risk” or “single point of failure”: for years we’ve all being trying to do more with less and expecting our colleagues and our staff to adapt and absorb the additional pressures of longer hours, more responsibility, and with generally less pay (in real terms) against a backdrop of increased global competition, increased regulation, and demands to drive bottom line performance.
Overstretching the team (or the entire company for that matter) creates an environment where behaviour can and does change people in their day-to-day interactions with both colleagues and customers and shapes their perspective of the organisation, placing excessive stress on staff often leading to higher levels of staff turnover with the ultimate price being paid in loss of corporate value and a lack of sustainability.
We also need to recognise negative actions or bad culture in a company can very quickly become public leading to significant and potentially large-sale negative publicity with a resultant loss of reputation in the marketplace – an own goal for your business and a gift for your competitors.
People can absorb only so much of the additional pressures placed on them.
Madalyn Parker’s case is not the only public example of mental or stress-related issues in the workplace. The need for time-out to address mental and stress-related illness can and does effect people at all levels of an organisations in companies of all sizes. Take the CEO of UK-based Lloyds Banking Group, Antonio Horta Osorio, who took weeks out back in 2011 due to what was at the time reported as him being “physically and mentally exhausted”.
The announcement at the time wiped-off some £930 Million in stock market value of the bank, but today Mr Horta Osorio continues as CEO and the bank’s share price is well above where it was back in 2011.
Developing people - protecting the businesses most important asset
Fostering a positive and supportive environment which could include use of paid sick leave for mental and physical illness, access to psychological services as part of the employees’ benefits, and wider education and awareness on mental health issues – communicated and visibly encouraged from the very top – is critical to changing the workplace environment for the better.
Ultimately the Board and the executive management are responsible for ensuring the physical and mental wellness of all staff and are ultimately accountable to the shareholders for protecting and enhancing corporate value – and reputation.
And that’s one of the other big risks I continually hear from companies all around the world, Reputational Risk, but that’s a topic for another day.
The change starts with recognising the need to address mental wellness in the same way we treat physical wellness. In short, it requires real leadership.
What can you do to help?
With all the best intent in the world, it would be challenging for businesses to change their culture and processes overnight on their own. Questions are now being asked, and thats an amazing start. To see these questions being asked in the mainstream media is exciting.
For mental wellness professionals such as Psychologists, Counsellors and Therapists, there is an ever increasing opportunity to use your knowledge and skill and to reach people in a way like never before. The demand from Corporates for highly skilled people, to help them manage their people risk, which ultimately means their peoples holistic wellness, is unparalleled. And the people that can help deliver the support that they need are the highly skilled mental wellness professionals. Not just when an employee reaches out for help, but on a preventative basis through sustained programmes of talks, employee assistance programmes ("EAP") and even through sitting in advosiry positions of influence over the processes they follow. Its time for change, wouldnt you want to be a part of that?
Contact The Advocacy Partnership today for our help to get your business to where it needs to be. As well as advising mental health practitioners on how to support the corporate demand The Advocacy Partnership is also well placed to provide advice to small, medium and large businesses on changing their internal culture and processes to include empathy and thus protect reveunue and assets.
As well as being a member of the team at The Advocacy Partnership, Grant Griffiths is a corporate advisor, risk management executive and non-executive director who has held senior executive and leadership roles in companies including ALSTOM, Siemens, Wipro Technologies, Caminus Corp., Fitch Ratings (Algorithmics Inc.), and Amec, in addition to Interim and Advisory roles with SAS Institute, IBM, MCE, and Smartlink (Jetsmarter), and is currently Deputy Chair of the IRM Regional Group for Turkey.