Jane Imrie

"In a Zoom call no-one can tell how you are doing": Business leaders open up for World Mental Health Day in 2020

Mental health has never been more important than it is in 2020.

While always significant, it is fair to say that World Mental Health Day 2020 carries a heavier, more collective significance than in recent years.

As a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, everybody has been affected by social distancing, lockdowns and huge changes to their work and personal lives.

For this year’s World Mental Health Day, business leaders spoke candidly to Bdaily about their own experiences and struggles, and shared the lessons they have learned about mental health and wellbeing during this unprecedented time.

Gary Butterfield, co-founder and executive director at HR, health and wellbeing firm Everyday Juice Limited

“If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that connections are our greatest asset, and that compassion and understanding should be at the heart of the employee proposition.

“Isolation and loneliness have been a growing issue for a long time now, but it was suddenly thrust into the spotlight when the world went into lockdown.

“No longer could we speak to friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours without a glass window or electronic screen between us. It therefore comes as no surprise that we are seeing sharp declines in mental health as a result.

“The need for social interaction is embedded deep within our DNA, and although for many of us electronic devices have offered some much-needed contact, it doesn’t in any way compare to face-to-face communication. We all need that oxytocin hit!

“The pandemic has affected each and every one of us in different ways, and no one size fits all approach will suffice. However, by creating a culture of compassion and understanding that we’re all experiencing things in different ways it will ensure that we all come back together stronger than when we left.

“The most in-tune employers have realised this, and quickly put in place provisions to foster greater connections through shared experiences.

“Whether it be a yoga class, seminar or workshop, online pub quiz, or in our case a hotly contested team step challenge using no-code tools, organisations are gauging what kind of services and support add value to the employee experience and creating a greater sense of connectedness.

“Once this is all old news and normal life resumes, in whatever way that looks like, by building stronger connections now we will benefit from greater fulfilment, happiness, wellbeing, and engagement with our workplaces.”

Cate Murden, founder human behaviour-focused business consultancy PUSH

“Managing teams’ resilience – Resilience is a muscle, not a plan! During the current crisis, businesses have worked faster and better than they ever dreamed possible just a few months ago. Maintaining that sense of possibility within our people will be an enduring source of competitive advantage.

“As we think about the next phase of work, we should be mindful to consider how we rewire our organisations for speed: based on design, rather than adrenaline. Indeed, the next phase is not a plan with an end goal – it is a constantly moving beast.

“So, how can we best equip our organisations and people to be resilient to whatever change comes next?

“Here’s how…Firstly ensure there is absolute clarity on what you stand for - beyond shareholder value and an understanding of how to get things done right.

“Next is leadership, this is everything when building resilience and, conscious leaders who realise their impact and can lead and empower a team – regardless of proximity are the ones who will empower their workforce, thus reinforcing resilience.

“Also, never be under the illusion that small is less. Small, nimble and highly connected teams with the power to make important decisions faster and better will be able to reach, pivot and thrive if the workplace culture and ethos is right.

“An engaged workforce whose training has been invested in extensively with new skills, behaviours and beliefs cannot fail to be resilient, even through the toughest of crises.”

Anishka Prasad, founder of lawtech firm Resolv

“Covid has been mentally and emotionally challenging for everybody in various industries and has caused a great deal of frustration for many financially as well.

“I have chosen to see this adversity as an opportunity to develop my lawtech app RESOLV further, by utilizing the in-depth feedback we have received from industry peers in the legal industry, very generously sharing their emotions and experiences with the pandemic.

“I personally practice mindfulness and mediation as a daily habit to ensure that my mental wellbeing is in good shape. Tough times require resilience and tenacity from business leaders and companies in the decisions that they choose to make.

“Keeping a level-headed approach is easier said than done when decision- making time presents itself. I personally have found the art of taking a step back, assessing the situation for what it is and making self-aware decisions that are mutually beneficial to all parties involved quite help during this pandemic and in life generally.

“The biggest lesson that 2020 has taught me is to know and understand that no situation is permanent, both in a good and bad way. If for instance, you experience certain delays in work, it’s not necessarily an adversity, but an opportunity to better place yourself when the optimum time for that opportunity presents itself again.”

Rebecca Newenham, founder and director of virtual agency Get Ahead VA

“2020 has certainly been a huge learning curve, both professionally and personally. On the one hand, my team are all home-based so we were physically well set up to manage lockdown.

“However, I felt a big responsibility to support my team mentally. Many of my virtual assistants have had to manage homeschooling alongside client work. Financial concerns were also a big issue, with family changes and a reduction in client demand.

“I learnt just how important good self-discipline is. Having juggled a family and running a business for 10 years, I’ve always had to be aware of this. But with three teenage daughters and a husband at home, as well as a team to support, I had to be even more disciplined.

“I chose to get up early in the mornings to get work done, allowing me time to spend with my girls during the day. Those in my team with younger children used nap times and evenings to get on top of things.

“We organised Zoom meetings around our families so that we could give both our full attention. This allowed us to achieve a better work/life balance and ensure that everything got done. Every minute really does count and can be used wisely.

“I also became even more aware that we are all human. During lockdown, many of my team were suddenly having to manage everything under one roof. Working at home, whilst sharing the space with partners, spouses, children, pets, housemates, parents.

“We all embraced dogs barking or children’s interruptions in our Monday morning team catch-ups and accepted the reality that we all have lives outside of work. We became more sympathetic when others didn’t present the corporate image we used to expect. I think we’ve all become more relaxed about being who we really are.”

Lee Lam, CEO of business support specialist UK’s StartUp Partner

“Running a business can feel like a lonely place to be, and the events of 2020 have not helped. My physical, mental and emotional stamina have all taken a hit and made me realise that if I want my business to thrive, then I have to as well.

“I support other businesses and so it is easy to fall into the trap of looking after them before myself, and I pride myself on my resilience in difficult times,[and] have made the whole brand about being there for others whenever they need us.

“I say that I am fine, and looking after myself, because to admit that I had difficult days seemed like admitting weakness. In a Zoom call no-one can tell how you are doing – sometimes it’s not only pyjama bottoms that are being hidden from the screen.

“It helped me to create a support crew. People who knew my business, knew I was good at my business, but knew that I needed a place to admit when I was struggling. It was okay to admit that leaders needed others to take the reins for a while.

“Then, when I felt rested and more positive about the future, I did the same for others, challenging them when they were going through the motions of being okay, continually asking them how they were, even after being told countless times that they were fine.

“Resilience is different from coping. Coping is what you do to distract yourself – social media has become the ultimate coping mechanism, to soothe you and to beat yourself up that others are doing better than you (spoiler – they’re not).

“Resilience is acknowledging when you feel rough, knowing that it may take time to get better, but knowing that you will be a better person for it, ready to take on anything else this year has got in store.”

Boryana Tuzharova, co-founder of International Women Connected

“When you have your heart in your business and your business in your heart, it is a matter of persistence to keep calm and keep on going with your work.

“Every new year is a new beginning, a new hope and a lot of new targets to achieve. As an entrepreneur for the last six years I can say that I personally had worse years than what happened in 2020.

“As a leader in my industry I never had two ways about accomplishing my targets and delivering my work. 2020 was a challenging year in terms of a new and unknown threat we all had to get used to.

“We all had to adjust to the new rules and the new “normal”. No doubt it was scary, it was dangerous, it was new…. However, when your whys are bigger than your excuses, you just isolate yourself from the chaos and focus.

“For our business IWC, 2020 was a very powerful year, full of opportunities and new possibilities for expansion.

“Me and my business partner had two options - to excel and upgrade our level or to close the doors and agonise in despair. We chose the first option. We mobilised our energy and cut the outer distractions. It was our call to action and it still is.

“This year reminded me that when you are a leader you have responsibilities. The biggest one for us was to ensure we gave a positive example to the rest of the team, members and to other leaders in the same field. Which means to be able to manage your own self-first is important - being aware of the fact that people are watching you.

“I am a mother of two girls and during the lockdown I was the only person leaving the house and the only food products and medication supplier. I didn’t have time to be scared, nor to panic.

“I had to focus so everything would go as it used to be. I remained composed so my children didn’t feel something very frightening was happening. I kept busy - homeschooling, home office, endless walks with the dogs. I survived and if this happens ten times more - I will survive ten times more again.

“For me, 2020 was all about staying focused and keeping myself busy. If you want to be successful and on point - this is valid for every year.”

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