Creating real change through systems, structures and values
Earlier this month, The English Football Association launched a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of mental health to fans across the country. With support from HRH Prince William and some of the biggest names in the game, kick off for every F.A Cup 3rd round match was delayed by one minute – providing a wonderfully executed opportunity for people to take a moment for their minds.
Over the following few days, that moment became slightly tainted when it was highlighted that The F.A’s partner, online gambling site, Bet365, was streaming the games only to consumers who’d placed a bet or opened an account with them. The promotion was said to be in direct conflict with the core message of the mental health campaign, by encouraging gambling and its associations with addiction, depression, substance misuse and even suicide.
The situation presented a predicament for the F.A, who were attempting to use their influence to raise awareness of the very problems their chosen partners are said to cause. The F.A wants to do good things for society – but let’s not forget – this is a business. Just as we’ve seen with environmental issues, diversity & inclusion or workers’ rights in developing countries, addressing social concerns like mental health doesn’t always fit with the end goal of profit and growth.
The corporate conundrum
This is an example of a problem not unfamiliar within the broader picture of corporate mental health, both in the corporate world and society in general. The problem being that, as much as we attempt to resolve the mental health crisis, the long-held systems and cultures in place mean we’re limited on the impact our solutions can have.
During the very same week of the F.A controversy, Starbucks announced a staff mental health initiative, providing a range of services for over 290,000 staff members and a partnership with Headspace, amongst other leading organisations. An encouraging move, which deserves to be applauded. But in doing so, a backlash came from staff members claiming to be overworked and underpaid, with a petition to back this up gaining over 23,000 signatures. Once again, although the campaign is welcome and well intended, the culture doesn’t entirely match.
The broad range of mental health initiatives on offer to corporations can indeed be highly effective and are a much needed step in the right direction. But unless the culture, systems and structures match the campaign, they are, ultimately, a sticking plaster. A band aid, as our American cousins might say. A surface level solution to a far deeper problem.
Of course, these are relatively early days of what is a significant wave of a mental health movement. Having organisations of this scale and influence even talking about such issues, is a major development which must be encouraged and credited. With the widespread influence they have, there’s potential for this to reach even further, within the workplace and beyond.
But equally, for many of these companies – and beyond – there are greater issues that need addressing, that a workplace mental health programme or meditation app will be fighting an uphill battle to resolve.
In the workplace, for example; if an account manager and her team, in a competitive services industry like advertising, are running on burnout – but the client deadline is non-negotiable – what happens then?
Or beyond the workplace; if a consumer downloads a meditation app, but is still bombarded by 4,000 advertising messages daily and an endless newsfeed of other people’s seemingly perfect lives – how much impact can it really have on their self-esteem?
The current mental health movement is in the nascent stages of what might have a major impact on health, wellbeing and societies. The companies getting on board are groundbreaking in their work. If we think back to where we were at the beginning of the last decade, the evolution and progress has been unprecedented.
So, what for the next decade? Can businesses move beyond the “sticking plaster effect” and begin to solve the greater problems society holds for mental health?
Mental health: a core business value
One thing’s for sure, that the answers are far from straightforward and, as this movement continues to progress, the answers it does provide are often accompanied by more questions. So we can only take one step at a time.
But in order to move towards solving these issues, perhaps we might start by addressing both sides of the coin, side-by-side, as to what businesses and technology are doing for mental health and fitness.
The innovation and the exploitation.
The campaigns which promote mental wellbeing and the campaigns which harm it.
The workplace initiatives which alleviate stress and the office cultures which cause it.
For businesses to truly offset their mental health footprint, they must address the issue holistically, from a range of angles and consider where it fits as a core value of the business. While the F.A and Starbucks should be praised for introducing initiatives to address mental health problems, they must also address the fundamental cultures and systems which contribute to those problems in the first place.
This can be said about all major corporations. As the mental health conversation continues to grow and awareness increases, this will inevitably become a greater consideration for them and one to start thinking about now. We need not look much further than to see how Diversity & Inclusion has gone from being a progressive idea in the HR department, to one which companies like Nike and Barclays have placed as a core pillar of the company’s mission, extending beyond the workplace to directly impact the billions of customers they serve worldwide; and even here, most of the work is still to be done on what is a very complex issue.
The end of the 2010’s saw a staggering increase in mental health awareness and workplace initiatives. As we enter the next decade, what impact could corporations have on society at large, when mental health is extended beyond the HR department, to communications, operations and beyond, as a consideration that runs throughout the business?
Every week, I collate news and analysis on what businesses and technology are doing for mental health & fitness – and what we, as individuals, can do for our own – with the Monday State of Mind newsletter. Subscribe here: https://www.richgoddard.co/monday-state-of-mind
About the Author:
Rich Goddard is the curator of the Monday State of Mind newsletter, covering what business and tech are doing for mental health in society – and what we can do for our own. He’s also a certified Executive Coach and marketing consultant, working to help businesses and individuals to bring the best out in our minds – in the workplace and beyond. Subscribe to the newsletter at: https://www.richgoddard.co/monday-state-of-mind