MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

In Conversation With Zoe Fortune, CEO, CMHA HK: Strategies and Tools for Senior Leaders

Dr Zoe Fortune is the Founding CEO of CMHA Hong Kong, the Hong Kong focused sister organization of City Mental Health Alliance Global, a not-for-profit membership organisation pioneering business led and expert guided mental health support for businesses.

Zoe shared with the Make A Difference Asia Team her strategies and tools to implement better practices around mental health and wellbeing in the workplace in Asia. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

The importance of senior leaders to be a role model for their talent…

“We’ve talked about vulnerability as well. But also, doing things that are good for your mental health and about how you get that in the working day. If you as a senior leader can get that in your working day, that sends a really good message. If you are able to join a yoga class, do some mindfulness, go for a run, leave work at an appropriate time and say “I’m going to have dinner with my children and my spouse”, these are the kind of messages that send an important message to others that you are prioritizing mental health and that they should too.”

On senior leaders setting work-life boundaries for their team…

We’re really lacking in the social connections [right now]. So could we pick up the phone and call someone and have an informal chat rather than having a formal Zoom meeting. How do we use the power of connection at an appropriate level. I think senior leaders have a responsibility to say how we’re going to do that and that we don’t need to have a zoom meeting constantly during the day because it’s quite difficult for someone to sit for 8 hours a day, not to mention that it’s not very productive.”

On the business case and human case surrounding workplace wellbeing…

If you look at the data around the cost of mental ill health, we did a piece of work with Oliver Wyman a couple of years ago and we found that it was 5.5 to 12.3 billion HKD for the professional services industry alone.

We updated that this year by asking respondents about presenteeism. Presenteeism is the opposite of absenteeism. It’s when people are physically going to work but the level of work is not at the level that we expect it to be. We found that with people who experience mental health problems, 83% will always go to work. 76% of that number, their productivity is impacted very often. What that means is, there’s a large percentage that are not being heard, not being listened to, managers aren’t aware that they’re struggling, and they’re not giving the relevant help and support that they need.

It’s really important to be aware of those facts and figures so that management can say that there is a business case, but on the other side of this there’s a human case that should be put together. 10% of people leave their jobs because of mental health problems. Think of the cost to your business with recruiting but also the cost to your team and what that means. We need to be creating what place is why people want to join.”

On how to measure the success of mental health strategies…

I would always say start with strategy everything needs to be led by strategy and that strategy should be led by stopping these so it’s about understanding what’s going on in your organization.

But I would also say, as I’m a researcher by background – it’s all about measurement. Decide on what it is that your outcome measures are going to be, how does this fit with the goals of your organization, do you want to have a happy and productive workforce, and what does it look like? As we are implementing this, understand what’s happening with staff, are they seeing the change on the ground, and then give that empowerment back to employees so that they feel part of this process.

On empowering mental health strategy implementation at every level…

“When it comes to mental health and middle managers we actually know recently that middle managers are some of those that are experiencing some of the highest stress levels. They’re being squeezed from the top, they’re being squeezed from the bottom, and they probably have other things going on in terms of life stages. We actually need to be better at supporting them and giving them tools and skills. When we say it’s about managers checking in to have a conversation about mental health, we need to make sure that we give them the skills and the confidence to do that.

Then it comes back to just being human, to be perfectly honest. When you’re having a conversation around mental health, if we’re talking to someone who you might think is experiencing mental health problems then that’s where we need to be focusing the conversation. Not about performance management at that moment, but ‘what’s happening for you?’

It’s also about can we get flexibility in. Middle managers need to know where parameters are for reasonable adjustments. Then being able to say ‘This is what you can do’ and ‘Actually, yes let’s have team meetings at 11 AM because I know you’re doing home learning from 9 until 11’, for example.

That’s empowerment back to the employees as well understanding what parameters you can work with then that enables managers to implement them.”

Want to learn more strategies and tools to address mental health wellbeing at the workplace for your organization? Come learn with like-minded C-suite at Make a Difference Asia on 11 November, 2020.

Register Your Interest Now at Make A Difference Asia or reach out to cheryl@makeadifference.events for partnership opportunities.

About the author

Cheryl Liew  – In going global, Make A Difference events is partnering with Cheryl Liew as Event Director of Make A Difference Asia. Cheryl is founder of Lifeworkz a firm headquartered in Asia which partners C-suite to evolve relevant, inclusive and high performing workplaces; since 2006 shaping the future of work and the future of Asia. This is done by focusing transformation through three niche areas — Contemporary Organisations, Culture, Gender & Generations Inclusion and High Performance without Burnout. Whether working with multi-national corporations in China and India, or consulting with retail brands and government agencies in Indonesia or Australia, the vision of LifeWorkz remains the same. As a Keynote speaker, author and executive high-performance coach, Cheryl is passionate about inspiring and empowering individuals to thrive without compromising the lifestyle they desire and certainly without burnout.