Creating Mental Health supportive workplaces starts with compassionate leadership.
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Day is “Making mental health for all a reality”.
With 1 in 4 people in England experiencing a mental health problem of some kind each year and 1 in 6 people experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week (Source: Mind) it’s profoundly positive to see so many organisations and stakeholders not just talking more about mental health, but acting to make positive changes.
It still feels like early days but it’s particularly exciting to see evidence of a shift emerging from seeing mental health as something to “support” to being placed at the centre of a global business movement. In the words of leading mental health advocate Poppy Jaman,
“Businesses are taking ESG (Environmental Social and Governance Strategies) very seriously… Social impact encompasses what happens within an organisation and includes putting workplace mental health on boardroom agendas and on risk registers. For example, we’ve seen an increase in resources allocated to hiring mental-health directors and well-being leads.”
One of the critical requirements for any organisation aiming to put mental wellbeing at the heart of its strategy is compassionate leadership. As Poppy puts it:
“We need from leaders the same qualities and skills they exhibited during the pandemic, including vulnerability, calmness, kindness, and compassion. If you’re not leading with compassion, then you risk losing talent because that’s what the next generation expects.“
We’ve written elsewhere about how compassionate leadership builds on empathetic leadership to translate hearing and listening into action:
“It is our role as leader’s to be able to go beyond “hearing” into action, or, often more vitally, the ability to share our own abilities and to be able to “coach” the person to find their own action or resolution.”
We’ve been particularly inspired in this field by being part of helping the NHS and pharmaceutical organisations take more and more steps towards compassionate leadership as we support their leadership teams with Transformational Coaching. It is no accident that the NHS and the pharma sector are emerging as leaders in building compassionate leadership into their business strategy. The organisation faces more and more challenges with staff recruitment and retention as the strains of tough roles at the frontline of healthcare face more and more layers of stress from organisational change, the impact of Covid and the challenges of dealing empathetically with patients.
There are powerful insights emerging from them taking this approach.
The first is that implementing compassionate leadership can face challenges. In the NHS it involves overcoming some powerful myths that relate to the idea that compassionate leadership is somehow weaker or involves a loss of commitment to high quality performance or a tendency to take a consensus approach or avoid tough decisions. In fact:
”Compassionate leadership means creating the conditions – through consistently listening, understanding, empathising and helping – to make it possible to have tough performance management and tough conversations when needed.”
The second is that it works. Michael West’s evidence based approach to exploring and evaluating the impact of compassion in the NHS clearly shows that compassionate leadership results in more engaged and motivated staff with high levels of wellbeing and better able to deliver quality care.
So on World Mental Health Day we’d like to celebrate compassionate leaders everywhere, as well as the impact they may be beginning to have on changing both the conversation, and the action, about mental health in the workplace.
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