Sometimes you know something needs to be done and you wonder why someone hasn’t done it. Then you realise you could do it. That’s what happened when Katie Lewis and I had a phone call back in the summer discussing the lack of basic mental health awareness and data in businesses across a wide variety of industries.
I’ve felt for some time that mental health has an image problem, and is, I suspect, part of the reason leaders can shy away from talking about it. Certainly, there’s a fear of doing the wrong thing, but more powerful is the stigma and the language used to shape the conversations around mental health. It can be ‘othering’, signalling it’s at a distance, something that happens to others, not ourselves. As the recent Nuffield Health report 'More Than Words' pointed out, one in four people experience a mental health issue each year, yet four in four (all of us) have mental health. People tend to think of mental health issues, rather than just ‘mental health’ as the category. Like physical health, we all have mental health, and like physical health, mental health varies over time. Sometimes we can manage things ourselves, sometimes we need professional help.
So, if you’re wondering if Workplace Mental Wealth (our name) is a spelling mistake, it’s not. It’s about challenging the stigma, changing the conversation and working towards cultures that are rich in mental wellbeing. In a nutshell, our ambition is to normalise conversations and drive positive action around mental health for everyone working in fitness and active leisure.
Across sectors, some organisations are very hot on mental health and wellbeing - it’s part of how they do things - many are not. The pandemic has certainly brought more attention to the subject, and I think it’s fair to say that for the first time many organisations have had to think and genuinely do more to support their team’s mental health. And interestingly, with home and work merged like never before, they’ve had to address the bigger picture and think about the whole person and what might be going on behind the scenes. A client I worked for during the pandemic found that 8% of the team were living and working alone, 30% had no outdoor space, 42% had school age children at home fighting for broadband and their parents' attention, and 18% had partners or family members in key worker roles adding other pressures in terms of the virus risk and childcare. All these things, and more, are part of the wellbeing equation.
And what of freelancers and the self-employed? Some have undoubtedly thrived because they were already online or have been able to adapt, but many have lost all their earnings and have not qualified for financial support.
It’s been a tough year for many, and a devastating one for some.
When Katie and I first started talking, our conversation was focused around delivering mental health training to help bridge the awareness to action gap. Our common love for, and experience in, the fitness and active leisure industry meant it was the obvious sector to consider. With my ‘culture hat’ on we started to think more deeply about what real change would look like. It would need to come from within organisations. Workforce first. As we researched and spoke to people, we realised this was a much bigger undertaking; we couldn't find any substantial data about the mental health of the workforce. We felt this should change and the idea of a sector-wide research project was born. You have to know where you are to know how you need to move forward.
We agreed on a two-pronged approach to research how organisations feel and their capability and capacity to create sustainable healthy cultures. Secondly, we planned to ask workers at all levels about their experiences. Comparing the two sets of data should give valuable insights. We are very grateful to Tara Dillon and CIMSPA for supporting us and partnering with us to help the survey reach CIMSPA members and the wider sector. There has been an awful lot on the CIMSPA plate during the pandemic.
The surveys kick off today. Honestly, we’re excited but more than a bit nervous. It’s a been a labour of love getting to this point, and we hope the start of something that will help us realise our ambition is to normalise conversations and drive positive action around mental health for everyone working in fitness & active leisure.
Co-founders of Workplace Mental Wealth - Lindsey Simpson and Katie Lewis