The World Health Organisation estimates that around 264 million people globally currently suffer from depression. In the UK, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) estimates that at any given time around 17% of adults have symptoms associated with mental ill health.
It’s also a business issue: MHFA estimates around 72 million working days a year are lost to mental ill health costing the UK economy between £74 billion and £99 billion.
Mental health was already high on the business agenda before COVID-19 and has become even more important as the pandemic creates uncertainty and causes economic damage.
Business leaders not only struggle to maintain their own mental fitness in the face of unprecedented pressures but also need to try to support staff and business partners.
Livingbridge has worked with Georgina Cavaliere, a Leadership Advisor and Performance Coach to find out how she helps optimise the leaders, teams, and boards of portfolio companies during this period.
2020 has brought a host of challenges: the pandemic causing massive economic damage while changing how people live and work, the imposition of lockdowns and the adoption of remote working, along with Brexit.
“While it remains important to focus our attention on how we bounce back from things, its useful to shift our focus instead to how we ‘bounce forward’: how we can use adversity as a catalyst to get better and stronger. In the same way that we talk about physical fitness as a means of preventing conditions and keeping well, it’s helpful to think about mental fitness and the things we can do to keep our brains and emotional health fit and well,” says Georgina Cavaliere.
“Research tells us the brain can adopt a threat response or mindset when we are faced with challenging environments or a sub optimal mental fitness. We know that this leads to reduced working memory and less cognitive resources at our disposal, narrower fields of view, seeing more risk everywhere and greater levels of pessimism. But equally, we know the brain can also adopt a reward mindset, leading to much of the converse: greater cognitive resources, more insights and broader frames of reference, increased ideas for action, fewer perceptual errors or bias and wider fields of view. We can take this notion of threat and reward, and we can use this to differentiate between the things that make us move towards something or others, or away from something or others. The basic premise is that we can lead ourselves and others to a ‘toward response’ that helps people to be more switched on and attuned to opportunities to focus, innovate, collaborate and in short, win together”.
Brain-based research has identified a range of insights and tactics on what we can do to optimise ourselves and our teams.
Georgina suggests that starting with shoring up our sense of relativity to others, we can review and navigate our validation system, to ensure that we are accessing sufficient feedback – from ourselves and others – to bolster our sense of achievement and contribution. Navigating what you need in terms of recognition and where you are going to get this from is all important during this period.
Martin Seligman’s work in practicing gratitude is also effective: by articulating the 3-5 things we feel grateful for daily we can expect to see a shift in wellbeing within a two-week period.
“Insight into the investment partnership and your business’ positioning in the fund is also useful”, suggests Georgina. “For example, having frank conversations about exit timeframes, expectation of your business within the broader fund etc can all be useful. Accessing information is the really important piece here: feeling like you are ‘not left out’ of a loop”.
Controlling the controllable & creating certainty is also central to our mental fitness today. “Unfortunately for many businesses, it’s hard to achieve targets right now and it can be more effective to manage the inputs. In practice, this looks like creating plans that are focused on inputs not outputs: what activities lead to outcomes and focusing attention on celebrating inputs – lead generation, developments in the platform etc”.
Managing initiative fatigue and having sticky and memorable goals and focus areas are all important now: “cognitive load is at an all-time high for most of us. If we can’t remember what is really meaningful in rowing the boat forward, we are unlikely to ruthlessly prioritise this. Keeping goals and our focus sticky – meaningful and easy to recall – is important”.
Focusing on learning is also recommended: “What are we learning and how will this help me tomorrow? How do we talk about what we are learning on our Boards? In our routines with our teams? Can we learn to celebrate the gap: what we thought versus what we learned and how we use this to win faster or smarter next time?” suggests Georgina.
Adopting a ‘good enough’ mindset is also a useful practical strategy to optimise mental fitness: “Perfectionism is unhelpful in volatility and uncertainty. Applying real discretion on what needs to be perfect versus what needs to be done is important during this period: what needs to be 10/10, and what can be 7/10 and challenging your c-suite based on this”.
Finally, Georgina offers the suggestion of challenging our notion of working harder, vs making a meaningful contribution: “working harder gives many of us a sense of psychological control: it can make us ‘feel better’ in the short term. Equally, research shows clearly that higher purpose and engaging in activities you attribute meaning to is considerably more beneficial, as is other person focus: doing things to help others”.
“As leaders and employers, our teams are microcosms of the society we live in: we are not immune from these statistics” says Georgina.
- Businesses that promote productive mental fitness typically offer employees a sense of meaning, belonging and affiliation, but also clarity and consistency. Relative to this topic, there are five important factors that underpin mental fitness and health in these cultures and businesses:
- Show commitment at a senior level to supporting mental health. For example, you can appoint a mental health sponsor for your business.
- Build the approach so the senior team understands the issue and their legal commitments but also understand your people and their challenges.
- Create a positive culture. Think about how you share information and communicate. Celebrate success and consider social activities and volunteering. Adopt zero tolerance for behaviours that are unproductive to positive mental health such as labelling.
- Provide mental health training and support. Consider support for line managers to become more capable to have conversations.
- Have a system for managing mental health: be prepared to provide support – but remember the boundaries.
- Relate: Relate | The relationship people
- The Samaritans: Samaritans | Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy | Here to listen
- CLASP: HOME — CLASP (claspcharity.com)
- Mind: Mind | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems
- Talk to Frank: Honest information about drugs | FRANK (talktofrank.com)
- And for practical and operational support on your business’ commitment to mental health literacy: Supporting Mental Health at Work | CIPD
This article was written in collaboration with Georgina Cavaliere. For more information on the topic, please feel free to reach out to us or email Georgina on firstname.lastname@example.org.