What I Learnt Being Open About My Mental Health With My Staff

I remember having a chat with a friend as I was hiring more staff. I said I was going to be very upfront about my anxiety and depression.

“Hmm, I wouldn’t’” she mused…

“They might think you’re weak.”

I thought about that bit of advice for a very long time. It played on my mind for months after the conversation — and still does every now and then.

I ignored the advice, however, like I do most advice I’m given (as my husband will attest to.) Instead, I’ve been very open and honest about my mental health with my team, and this is what I’ve learnt.

Transparency is Key

There are lots of reasons why being transparent as a leader should be at the top of your priority list. Employees are far more likely to trust someone who is open and honest with them about what is going on. If you hide things away, it can make your team feel demotivated, confused, and even anxious. Anyone who feels this way is far more likely to come into work solely for the salary, with no real motivation and certainly very little engagement. Considering employees who are highly engaged are believed to be 21% more profitable, there’s a lot to be said for fostering an open, honest and transparent organisation.

We often have frank conversations about all kinds of things at work, from mental health through to the profits (and losses) we make. If you want to see next-level transparency in action, just take a look at Semco and their groundbreaking pay transparency! It’s genuinely fascinating and just goes to show that a little bit of trust can go a long way.

Custom image by Abbie from Wildflower Illustrations

Everyone Has ‘Mental Health’

Mental health awareness has undoubtedly come a long way since I first started advocating for it seven years ago. However, while more and more people are discussing things like anxiety and depression more openly, there is still some stigma attached to ‘mental health’ as a whole. It’s essential that, as leaders, we foster these discussions in the workplace and enable people to feel as though there is nothing to be ashamed of.

It is estimated that one in six people in the past week experienced a mental health problem — and I’m sure those numbers will continue to grow through this current worldwide crisis. Yet despite so many people experiencing some form of mental health condition, there is still much to be done to promote the right kinds of conversations. Opening up and being honest about your own mental health with your team is just one way to get that discussion going.

Duvet Days

It is estimated that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions. Yet, with 40% of employees feeling uncomfortable calling in sick for a mental health reason, it’s likely that number is actually a lot higher. People are afraid to tell their boss that they really need a ‘duvet day’ and instead call in sick for another reason. Do you know what likely happens next? They feel anxious and upset that they had to lie and end up feeling worse than before. This creates a neverending circle of absenteeism that costs companies around the world billions.

However, since I have been open and honest about my own mental health with my team, no one is afraid to tell me that they’re having a crappy day. If they’re feeling anxious or depressed, they know they can just ask to take a step back. I’d rather they took a duvet day or two to look after their own wellbeing than become even more unwell through stress. It’s also why we have time off during World Mental Health Day every year, to do something for ourselves and remember how important that is.

Only Human

Despite all of these stats about boosting employee engagement or saving billions in sickness days, the most important reason of all is nothing to do with numbers. Too often, the human element can get lost in business. We can promise ourselves that our company culture puts people first, but then get carried away with profit margins and optimising processes. But we’re all just people, with real emotions and feelings.

We’re not just a ‘boss’ and their not just ‘Dave in accounts’ or ‘Sally in sales.’ We’re the boss, who gets stressed out and cries sometimes, and that’s okay. He’s Dave, who is struggling through a divorce and needs some time to heal, and that’s okay. She’s Sally, who battles with anxiety and needs space to breathe, and that’s okay. If you take one thing away from today it’s this… Remember, we’re only human, and that’s okay!

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