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Member Article

How marketers can lead the charge in the fight against workplace mental health stigma

By Ashley O’Neill MCIM, CIM Yorkshire Board Member (Events and Communications Ambassador) and UK Marketing Manager, Proactis “Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year” and it is the leading cause of sickness related absence from work, with 70 million working days and approximately £2.4bn lost annually. And, “worryingly, workplaces are also seeing a rising culture of ‘presenteeism’, meaning more people are coming into work when they’re unwell [which can] have a negative impact on productivity as well as their health. But, despite such a high number of people being affected by mental health issues, there is often still a stigma attached to the topic of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace – whether conscious or unconscious. This results in a reluctance by the sufferer to open up about their issues and seek help, for fear that doing so will negatively impact their career prospects and their professional reputation. To tackle this, organisations need to start normalising mental health and positioning it as something to be managed like physical health – without judgement or stigma. This change needs to be more than a short-term campaign or sporadic email, it needs real, long-term cultural change, championed and demonstrated by executives. Who better to spark this and lead the charge than the very people who utilise their skills daily to influence people, change mindsets and communicate messages – marketers. Build the strategy, present the business case and get buy-in from senior members of the business Looking after employees’ wellbeing should be a long-term initiative for any organisation, regardless of size. There should be a mental health wellbeing strategy in place to lay out objectives and signpost a plan of action for achieving them – something which we as marketers are already well versed in doing with our marketing strategies. Just as you would if you wanted to build a case for marketing investment, use your analytical and communication skills to lay out to the business why cultural change is needed and gain their buy-in. By doing this, you will be able to garner support and expertise from around the business to push things forward. Listen to employees and managers In the same way you would take the time to learn about your customers and understand their behaviour, talk to your colleagues and understand what they think. What are their thoughts about the company culture and internal attitudes to mental health? What do they think needs to be improved? How confident do managers feel about recognising issues and supporting their direct reports? Do people know how to seek help and do they fear consequences if they do? Share these findings (anonymously) to the entire company to highlight if there is an issue and that action is being taken – doing this will help to lay the foundations for a business-wide change in attitude and a cultural shift. Training This might not be your area, but, as masters of communications, marketers are well placed to work with HR/Learning and Development departments to help develop and shape training content that is carefully tailored to the appropriate audience and communicated effectively to engage them: • People managers: to enable them to spot the early signs that somebody is suffering and to have the confidence, autonomy, and tools to intervene and help them. This training should be regular – not a one off. Managers should regularly meet to share learnings and experience and to ensure their training is current and can be drawn upon easily. • Mental health first aiders: just as there are trained First Aiders in businesses to help with physical issues, Mental Health First Aiders are specially trained to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue with the right language, behaviour and actions. Again, this may not be a marketer’s area, but it is still something to propose to the business and even champion as a department. • All-staff: the best way to destroy mental health taboo is to undermine it through education. Employees should also be given access to resources and information to seek help – they should understand what help is available internally and how to access it if they need it. Again, this training should not just be a one-off and it should be built into new employee onboarding as standard. Change a culture with communications “Only when employees feel they are able to safely disclose information and receive the appropriate preventative or reactive support, can they have an open conversation around protecting and improving mental health at work, without any stigma attached.” As marketers we have a wealth of expertise and experience managing marketing campaigns and this is exactly what is called for to help change an internal culture. Use your marketing toolkit to make mental health part of your organisation’s rhetoric. If this is something you can champion directly, do, but if it sits with another department, get involved and lead the charge. As a starter for ten: • Regularly communicate the resources and tools available to people. • Signpost where people can seek help. • Work with HR to bring mental health on par with physical health and to ensure employees know that they will not be discriminated against for having mental health issues. • Share stories – they can be anonymised and do not even have to be connected to the business, but case studies help people to understand and empathise. Be a leader and a role model Don’t forget your own team in your efforts to break down workplace mental health stigma: • Make yourself approachable – bring the topic of mental health into conversations with your team and normalise it as a topic. • Make sure you discuss people’s mental wellbeing in 1-2-1 meetings as well as focusing on their performance. If you sense somebody is struggling, make sure they know they can talk to you. If they feel they can’t or don’t want to, make sure you can offer suggestions for where else they can turn. • If you are comfortable doing so, you could share experiences to encourage others to feel comfortable doing the same, but it could be as simple as expressing openness and being approachable. • Be self-aware and lead by example. Visibly demonstrate a commitment to wellbeing by taking care of your own – take your lunch break, take proper annual leave, and don’t make a habit of sending emails out of hours as you risk setting a precedent for your team and an accepted habit of consistently working long hours (if you have to, try scheduling their delivery for the next working day). All of this not only sends a signal to your team about the importance of wellbeing, it also starts to create a culture of positive work-life balance and will help protect your own mental health, so you can better help others. We can lead the charge As marketers, we have the skills to help our organisations break through the stigma that all too often surrounds the topic of mental health, not only with our direct teams, but throughout the wider business. As Marketing Weekly says: “Marketers understand culture and getting messages across to people, so in that respect […] they’re in an excellent position to lead on it.” We know how to build strategies using insight, influence stakeholders to garner support, position and tailor messaging to the target audience using the right tools and media, and deliver clear and consistent output to bring about change – it is these skills that we can draw upon to help normalise mental health in our organisations.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Rebecca Stenson .

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