Mental health is not a fad or a tick-box exercise. It's not a training course or a tool-kit. Mental health is a culture. Only by developing a pro-mental health culture will an organisation’s performance become optimised. But how can leaders determine if their organisation has a pro-mental health culture?
Leaders may wish to manage mental health for one or more of several reasons. Firstly, mental health affects a high proportion of any organisation’s employees, so it may seem like an important priority. Additionally, managers are more likely to suffer with poor mental health than more junior employees, meaning poor mental health might undermine the effective leadership of an organisation. Poor mental health is also known to depress productivity, cause high sickness absence rates and lead to poor employee retention. Employers must manage mental health effectively if they wish to optimise organisational performance. Beyond optimising performance, more compassionate employers may wish to ensure high levels of employee wellbeing. Employers may also wish to manage mental health for legal reasons; to ensure compliance and to minimise the risk of claims being brought against the organisation. Finally, most employers will wish to ensure their equality policies are operating effectively, with no discrimination occurring.
Whatever their motives, many employers will wish to understand the effectiveness of their approach to mental health and especially whether they have a pro-mental health culture. But how does an employer determine if their culture is pro-mental health?
Employers can assess their mental health culture by answering a number of acid test questions, although the below list in not exhaustive:
What % of the top 10% of earners speak openly about their (poor) mental health?
What % of ‘new joiner’ employees disclose a mental health issue during the recruitment process?
What % of ‘in-employment’ employees disclose a mental health issue?
What happens to employees who disclose a mental health issue at work?
What is the mental health pay gap?
What is the ‘leaver’ rate amongst those employees who disclose a mental health issue?
What is the ‘promotion’ rate amongst people who disclose a mental health issue?
As with most measures of performance, tracking results over time can indicate the direction of any trend. Comparing results, say, with industry averages, can also prove useful.
The answers to these questions measure the impact of mental health-related attitudes, practices and decisions within an organisation, all of which are reflective of culture. The answers reveal an organisation’s mental health culture, including if senior managers lead by example, if a glass ceiling operates and if employees with poor mental health are treated equally.
As with most aspects of management, it is action that counts. Not talk. Not intentions. Not plans. An organisation may say it is pro-mental health, but if outcomes do not match its words, employees will see their employer is disingenuous and simply paying lip-service to the issue.
When considering what to measure, too much emphasis is placed on inputs, such as the number of people receiving mental health training and how significantly mental health awareness has improved. These input measures are not reflective of culture. Equally, case studies do not reflect culture either. Every employer can find an employee or two to hold out as examples of how compassionate the employer has been. But one or two token cases do not evidence a culture. Strategic output measures evidence whether a pro-mental health culture runs throughout the organisation or not. Outputs must be measured which demonstrate the organisation applies its policies consistently, across the whole organisation, in support every employee with poor mental health.
So, if you’re a leader or policy influencer within your organisation and you wish to determine if your organisation has a pro-mental health culture, identify the answers to the above key questions. What do the answers tell you? Are the attitudes, practices and decisions within your organisation contributing towards a pro-mental health culture, or is your organisation consciously or subconsciously creating barriers and limiting the chances of employees with poor mental health?