I’ve read the research and I’ve seen the news. And yet I remain angry.
I‘m angry that mental health is now a priority because of the ROI, it represents to an organisation. That makes me angry because it feels inhumane, to equate someone’s mental health, to what they represent on your balance sheet. What happens if you ‘fix’ the mental health of your organisation? Would you still be giving a sh•t about people’s mental health then? Or will those initiatives no longer be required? That is until the next time, the toxic work cultures, judgemental feedback, relentless competition, and profit-driven purpose, breaks them again.
Don’t get me wrong, I am beyond delighted to see mental health being made a priority, people being encouraged to talk about it and support being put in place to help those in their time of need. But I am wary of the drivers behind this because if something is not being changed because of it’s actual root cause, but because of the consequences it has created, that change is very rarely sustainable – well certainly not in my experience because the solutions will not address the real drivers.
We know that people need to feel heard, seen and valued. We know that people thrive when they are fully embraced as their whole selves and indeed encouraged to do so. We know that people need a purpose bigger than themselves, something genuinely meaningful, to be truly engaged. We know that people grow when trusted and shrink when scared. We know that creativity can only exist in a psychologically safe environment, where failure is not punished and people’s ideas are not judged. We know that people can only truly connect with their fellow human beings, through vulnerability. And we also know, that once people earn enough money to cover the essentials in life, it no longer remains their primary motivator – purpose does.
Yet, despite knowing all of this, the majority of organisations still prioritise profit over people – playing the short game, or in the words of Simon Sinek, the finite game. And this breeds a truly toxic culture. One where people believe they are playing in a zero-sum game, in order to have more, they must take something from someone or somewhere else. It means people are driven to look after themselves first, foremost and last. They armour up to protect themselves in such competitive environments, which means only a fraction of their potential is ever seen. They are constantly judged by over-simplistic indicators and punished heavily for any perceived failure, especially those that result in a loss of earnings for the organisation. They are managed by fear and internal controls eat away at profit margins, trust and any sense of humanity. And all of this means, that people judge others as they are judged, they close down and hide their vulnerability, their creativity dies and a downward spiral of fear, disappointment, resentment, hurt, despair and eventually, hopelessness is entered. And that is sadly, a fairly accurate representation of the majority of our organisations today.
So, I think it’s fairly clear to see why so many people are suffering from mental health issues. As Johann Hari would say “they are having a perfectly reasonable response to a perfectly unreasonable set of circumstances”.
And I do not believe that organisations will have any real or meaningful impact on our mental health unless these very fundamental issues are addressed. And that means that people in positions of leadership will have to take a good, long hard look at themselves and their behaviours.
Most organisations are still light years away from being truly purposeful. Mainly because it means putting purpose and employees, before profit and shareholders. Some are so constrained by their shareholders and the market, they really have no freedom of their own and others so driven by ego’s and greed, they could not possibly envision a world, where other things may bring more value.
But the reality is our world is changing. People are waking up, our planet is crumbling, we have been so over-indulged with individualism and materialism, it has literally made us sick. Our ache for purpose and a life more meaningful, with connection, trust, and love, is overwhelming.
The organisations who get this, do not need statistics or reports to tell them the cost of mental health-related illnesses. They instinctively know and more importantly, gave a sh•t, because they care about their fellow human beings. They are connected to them, they live in a culture of trust and psychological safety. They look after the mental health of people, not by a set of initiatives, but by having meaningful values that will truly make a difference to this world, living into those values, each and every day and by creating a community where human beings can thrive – it is simply a state of being for them.
Whilst our modern-day challenges are great so are the opportunities. Organisations have an unprecedented opportunity, to really make a dent in this universe, because our governments, are sure as hell are not going to be able to meet our environmental, social and economic issues on their own. So, you really don’t have to look far to find a worthwhile purpose to commit to.
So much can and must be done to change our world, our way of working, of living and of being. It is only when organisations find the courage to be really honest about their culture and the way they view and treat people, that any meaningful and sustainable change will be made to mental health in the workplace and in our lives as a whole.