It’s tough at the top… Why senior leaders need mental health support too

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Pat Ashworth, Director of Learning Solutions, AdviserPlus

4th February 2020

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Mental health in the workplace is an issue that continues to draw attention, particularly as one in four Brits now experience mental ill health each year. Investing in mental health means investing in people, and the potential returns on this investment are huge.

Mental health organisations regularly call on leaders to care for employees’ mental health and create mentally healthy workplaces. But who looks after the boss? Mental health is a leadership issue and care must start at the top.

Many factors contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing a mental health condition, but the high demands of a leadership role, the stress that comes with it and the squeeze on time for self-care – coupled with the fact that it can be quite lonely – can combine and increase the risk.

Prevention: encouraging wellness and stress management

Most senior managers and executives suffer from anxiety and stress to varying degrees. Their mental health is under threat from every direction and, thanks to global markets and digitalisation, a person’s job can easily fill their diary 24/7/365.

Research shows that CEOs and Senior Executives are actually more prone to mental health issues because of the particular character traits that drive them. They tend to be hyper-vigilant, always preparing for worst case scenarios and darting over several ideas or areas of responsibility simultaneously – which is great for the organisation, shareholders and trustees, but wreaks havoc on a person’s anxiety levels and ability to sleep.

Stress can trigger mental ill health in people who are susceptible. It’s impossible to completely eliminate stress in the workplace, since targets, deadlines and difficult interactions may be inherent in some jobs.

It starts with you

However, your management style can subtly affect how stress affects everyone. Fostering a working culture where everyone feels able to discuss stress is the first step in prevention. The AdviserPlus Mental Health Report found huge differences in how frequently men report mental health issues across industries, suggesting some workplaces are fostering a culture that is behind the times.

It has been encouraging to see more CEOs talk openly about mental well-being. Lloyds Bank boss, Antonio Horta-Osorio, recently spoke out about his own struggle with mental health which led him to re-evaluate the importance of mental health for all of the bank’s 65,000 employees. Senior Executives underwent a mental health awareness programme, while thousands of mental health first aiders were trained throughout the Bank with an online portal being set up for staff.

Talking about it is the only way to get better. Organisations need to ensure that they have a robust mental health awareness strategy in place for staff that not only helps them learn the nuts and bolts of management, but also how to self-manage and prioritise self-care when the going gets tough. And, leaders who let a little more of themselves and their personal struggles come through will help to create a more open and nurturing culture to benefit all.

This blog features in a new whitepaper from Working Transitions, part of the AdviserPlus group. To download the full whitepaper, click here.


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