‘Invisibility’ of Mental Health is the Biggest Challenge for Leaders

Did you see celebrity radio host Roman Kemp’s widely praised “Our Silent Emergency” BBC documentary? The difficulty men in particular have talking to one another about emotions was one of the key issues highlighted. After all, how can you help someone if their struggles are hidden?

Similarly, the hidden aspect of mental ill-health was identified as one of the biggest roadblocks to progress at  the recent think tank of Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and Finance Directors (FDs) which Make A Difference Media co-hosted with Generation CFO.

The scene was set by Starbucks EMEA financial director Jonny Jacobs, as the latest lockdown measures in the UK are relaxed and organisations prepare their employees for another ‘new normal’.

The open and frank discussion was sponsored by digital health platform Kooth plc and included input from Sanjay Jawa, Kooth plc’s own CFO. You can download the full CFO Briefing report resulting from this roundtable session here.

Stigma is still an obstacle

Gerald Dawson, a portfolio Finance Director, said there was still a ‘lack of comfort’ around terminology to do with mental health that doesn’t exist with physical health.

He said: “Every business understands health and safety.  You look at pathways through factories, signage and markings and it is all really obvious and clear.

“But then you start talking about mental health, which is 24-hour, seven days a week, and suddenly we have left the comfort zone and most of it is invisible. We just don’t have the vocabulary and the mindset yet to treat it in the same way.”

The key to progress

Set against a backdrop of disturbing statistics from the World Health Organisation that depression, anxiety and loneliness have doubled during the pandemic, there was a general consensus that addressing mental health and wellbeing was now a moral obligation for companies to fulfil.

The financial leaders from companies including Kelloggs, Ipsos and Zurich Insurance all agreed that the key to progress was creating a trusting environment where people felt safe to share their experiences and open the door to a deeper understanding.  At the same time, they recognised that this was not easy to achieve.

Jonny Jacobs said: “Research shows that the majority of people are afraid to talk to their line manager, so the language we use is really important.  A big part of getting mental health right is about talking.”

Talking the CFO’s language

Sanjay Jawa, CFO of the roundtable sponsor Kooth plc, suggested that getting the language right was down to the CFO.

He said: “As CFOs we are by our nature data driven, but in areas such as mental health we’re not yet collecting the right data. This means that there is yet to be the investment employees need from their employers into mental health and wellbeing. This has a compounding effect, as it leaves staff who are on sick leave for mental health reasons unsure if they can tell their teams the true reason for their absence and it becomes even harder to create accurate, quantifiable data.

“Employers have to be seen to be taking the lead, and a small investment in this area will pay dividends, not only in the mental health and wellbeing of employees but also the quality of the information available to the company.”

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Meeting next generation needs

Looking to the future, David Sayers, Partner and Practice Lead for the CFO practice of recruitment consultancy Green Park, indicated the importance of a clear mental fitness strategy to attract and retain the stars of the next generation.

He said: “Increasingly when I speak to candidates, they ask ‘What is the company’s stance around mental health, wellbeing and support?’

“If you don’t have an answer to that question, you start your recruitment journey way behind other organisations.  You just don’t get these people into the room.”

You can download the full CFO Briefing report which resulted from this roundtable session here.

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Starbucks’ Jonny Jacobs on Psychological Safety Through Covid-19

Movember Founder JC On Covid-19, Suicide and Men’s Talk

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