It’s the talent that’s the problem

By Lis Field

9th May 2017

The statistics are frightening: 77 per cent of the British workforce has experienced symptoms of poor mental health. Unsurprisingly, 80 per cent of sufferers find it difficult to concentrate; 62 per cent take longer to do tasks; 37 per cent of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with a colleague; and on and on.

Where are we going wrong? Why is this such an issue? Why now?

Let’s be honest; too many of the senior management across our industry today cut their teeth in an environment of “Jump? How high?”.  Our industry has changed enormously over the last 15 or 20 years. Cultural and social changes have coupled with technological developments to create a working environment which is fast paced and high pressured. Clients and journalists are under increasing pressure themselves. And the bulk of our workers, that much maligned millennial generation, are right at the heart of it – always on, always engaging, looking for meaning in a job for now, not for life.

It is an incredibly tough circle to square, and it’s time we’re honest about it. It is hard to reconcile cultural goals with business reality. Financials and compassion. Deadlines and work-life balance. It’s not something that can be fixed with a training programme or a blog post or a fruit bowl.

Mental health shouldn’t have a day’s designation or a week’s focus. This is not a ‘nice to have.’ This is not and should never be a reason to stand out.

We should be using mental wellbeing in the workplace as the reason to fit in. To be considered a decent employer. This needs to be ingrained in every manager, in every leader. This matters today and is vital for tomorrow.

At Eulogy, we’ve long spent a great deal of time on appraisal structures, training programmes, personal development. But it dawned on me that we spent more time discussing our grocery suppliers than we did our mental wellbeing. It was time to revisit some priorities.

So, we’ve been looking at how we can help our gang be even more mentally fit. That started with training, to understand better what we mean by the phrase ‘mental wellbeing’. We have spoken with experts, including Stretching the City who have taken every person through a series of workshops to better understand the potential challenges and their role in helping their colleagues navigate them. And we’re now talking with Byrne & Dean, who taught me about mental first aid.

We are applying this new knowledge to every facet of our business. Beyond our people management, appraisals, line management and buddy systems, to our growth strategy, our client servicing, our business planning. And so far, it’s working. Our staff turnover has dropped from 42% three years ago to16% for the year of 2016. (And many of those departures were people moving country).  Staff satisfaction is through the roof. Sickness and time off work has dropped three-fold.

This has only been possible because we’ve focused on our people, in their entirety, not just when they walk through the door in the morning. Yes, we have policies and paperwork that reflect our attitude but, to be honest, we don’t need to point to a board paper to prove our commitment. It’s there to see in the conversations across the desks; the chats around the kettle; the moments of conversation that start with listening, really listening.

I know Eulogy is miles ahead of most businesses in this regard, which points as much to the broader problem as it does to our credit.

That’s why we need to face some hard truths.

The first one is rather simplistic. We have turned our ‘people’ into ‘talent’ and suffered the consequences. We have pushed the responsibility owed to our employees to an arm’s length and expected everyone to be okay.

We need to stop dehumanising our work relationships. ‘Talent management’ implies we need only deal with the bits of an individual which relate to the working environment. Yet people who work have real lives, real interests. And if we’ve learnt nothing else from the ‘millennial’ generation, it’s that they demand and expect to be treated as a person, not a nine-to-fiver.

Talent is something we exhibit, not something we are. Eulogy is made up of people who are talented. Not talent who are also people. We celebrate our joys at the drop of a hat, and with such heartfelt enthusiasm. Weddings; babies; graduations. But we also have people trying to buy their first home; people caring for their infirm parents; people who are watching their loved ones lose their jobs; their confidence.  If we want to foster mental wellbeing in the workplace, then we need to treat each other as real people. You, me, the bloke sitting next to you. Just people. With lives.

The second truth is that we don’t have all the answers. We don’t even have half of them. I know we’ll get a lot right. I also have no doubt that we’ll get things wrong too. We’ll miss things.

The boldest and bravest thing for our industry to do right now is to hold its hands up and acknowledge that there is a long road ahead for companies everywhere.

It is then and only then, that we can begin to make a real and lasting difference.


This blog was originally featured by the PRCA, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.