How to Lead with Compassion when Prioritising Employee Mental Health - Interview with David Ogilvie

30th January, 2023
The pandemic has had its moment and has done us all a huge favor and stepped out of the spotlight. We do however have to now face the harsh realities that have been left behind. Stress and employee burnout is at an all time high and we now see the need to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of our employees.

Today we have David Ogilvie, Chief Executive Officer of The Resilience Development Company. On a mission to unlock potential, performance, growth and wellbeing. As the creator and leader of a skills-based approach to building resilience, Resilience Development Co has delivered coaching and training programmes across big and small organisations, resulting in improved performance and transformation at all levels.

We at Beaconforce are very proud to have him share his insights and expertise on not only the importance of Employee Mental Health but the best strategies to make this a core part of any organisation.

A healthy workforce is the foundation of thriving organizations and healthier communities, so it comes down to sustainability, purpose, and ethics at an organizational level.

For employees everywhere, it's an important topic because we all have mental health and poor mental health is rising. 1 in 4 of us will experience poor mental health at any given time and research from the World Economic Forum published in September 2022 shows that well-being was a top priority for workers during the pandemic. It's become more important than it was during the lockdown. People feel more stressed at work, and long-term stress leads to burnout and poor mental health. Suppose organizations don't respond to the very human needs of their people. In that case, their people will either physically leave their organization or mentally disengage. Neither is good for reputation, productivity, and growth.

The Resilience Development Company helps people develop the mental, emotional and social skills that dramatically reduce the symptoms of stress and increase resilience at an individual, team, and cultural level. Our programs give people a practical skill set and common language that accelerates well-being, relationships, and performance together. It moves beyond the myriad of ad-hoc wellness-focused initiatives, giving organizations measurable, tangible and sustainable results. Our program is cultural, so it sits before employee assistance and medical plans. They have their place, but the issues remain if the employee returns to the same broken environment. People disengage and question whether they belong, and that's where the cost of burnout and turnover exists.

Across the thousands of people we've trained and coached, burnout indicators have reduced by 40% and 92% say they are now living, feeling, and working better. Put simply, they've decreased stress and improved mood and that's before we get to the organizational outcomes of increased engagement and reductions in turnover.

Similar to physical fitness, taking action daily, with a skills base and shared language, makes a huge difference in staying mentally, emotionally, and socially fit.

If leaders want to improve the lives of their people, mental health is an excellent place to start. I'd encourage any leader to remember that whilst productivity and delivering results are essential, there is no wealth without health.

Yes. It is fundamental to success; if it's not already imperative, your strategic objectives are at risk. Mental health awareness is here to stay and employees leave their positions for organizations with support, programs and benefits that pro-actively support mental health and well-being. The macro trends also support this view:

- Legislation is becoming much more focused, bringing parity between physical and mental health, so governance will demand it.

- Organisations generally have generic strategies for "being the employer of choice" or talent acquisition. Reputation matters, so talent will choose those employers who put their money where their mouth is.

- People are more switched to the value of their mental health and what they are prepared to accept in terms of the working environment.

Over 2023, I expect more organisations to focus on stress, presenteeism (working when ill) and mental health. My concerns are:

1. Many organizations focus on ad-hoc generic "wellness" or treating poor mental health, leaving a massive opportunity gap to concentrate on day-to-day skills and habits.

2. A genuine and present danger of the narrative pushing the responsibility from the employer to the employee.

3. A lack of a roadmap to a mentally healthy culture and giving people the skills they need to thrive.

I'd suggest a four-pronged approach:

1. Review the effectiveness of what you already have when people are struggling.

For example, many people need to be made aware of the support available in their employee assistance programmes, so usage is lower. Review your health promotion initiatives, insurance, and protection alongside flexible working and mental health signposting.

2. Scrutinise initiatives that undermine your efforts

That wellbeing content platform that looked great twelve months ago that no one uses, for example. Or a focus on time spent collaborating digitally at the expense of productivity and removing meetings that aren't required to give people permission and space to switch off from an "always on" culture.

3. Inform your strategies by asking people what they need to perform and remain healthy.

Your people are best placed to know.

4. Then there's the more formidable challenge. It is creating environments that enable people to thrive and that comes down to culture.

There's a saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast and that means to me that it's the everyday actions that define whether your business is healthy or not. For example, McKinsey conducted a global survey of 15,000 employees and 1,000 HR decision-makers in 15 countries in early 2022. They found that toxic workplace behavior is the biggest driver of negative workplace outcomes, such as burnout and intent to leave.

Employers tend to overlook the role of the workplace in driving employee mental health, well-being, engagement, and performance. It would be best if you viewed high rates of burnout as a warning sign that the organization, not the individuals, needs to undergo systemic change.

Finally, within this, I'd recognize leaders' undeniable impact on their people in role modeling and promoting change. Managers and leaders can be giants in people's working lives, even in small teams and flat structures. Nothing is more dangerous than a giant that doesn't realize it's a giant. This is where creating space and investment for leadership development, resilience training, and coaching comes in.

It's easy in leadership to promote endurance as resilience, which can negatively affect employee mental health. No one is immune from burnout. Endurance is surviving at all costs, whereas resilience is more focused on remaining in a healthy state. Many people I've coached honestly thought they were resilient when in reality, they were enduring their work environments, bosses, culture, and change.

So what would I do differently based on what I've learned regarding employee mental health? I'd invest more in programs and development that built the skills & resources of my people so they could own and create an environment where people thrive rather than endure.

David, as you know, Beaconforce is a deep listening tool, based on solid scientific foundations, which helps companies translate people's voices into insights and predictive analysis, creating more engaging, sustainable, and performing work environments. The companies that choose us are innovative and cutting-edge, they care about the wellbeing and mental health of their people.

Software such as Beaconforce is an enabler of targeted and effective insights for two reasons. Beaconforce provides a route for teams to collect tacit knowledge within the team and spot patterns over time, often uncovering more profound understanding. At a very human level, self-knowledge is essential because it offers us a route to more happiness and fulfilment. A lack of self-knowledge leaves you open to accidents and mistaken ambitions. Armed with the proper knowledge, you have a greater chance of avoiding errors in your dealings with others and formulating strategic choices. This is the gap that I see Beaconforce filling.

And then there's a simple truth: mental health is a community issue long before it's a clinical one. Anything that enables a community to listen, understand and build strategies that respond to those initial needs dramatically improves chances of success and adaptability.

Imagine your response if you walked into a doctor's surgery and they took a quick look at you and offered you a prescription without exchanging words. In other words, they prescribe without a diagnosis. Sound familiar?
Thank you very much for this interview, David!

If you're interested in improving the mental health and well-being of our employees check out our plans!
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