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Mental Health Awareness: How Fresh Thinking Can Cultivate a Tonic Culture

Gareth Spencer

UK Field Marketing Manager at Cornerstone

Arriving at the Cornerstone building in the heart of London, I enter the lift and travel up four floors to what looks like a futuristic spaceship, but is in fact our lobby in which Gemma, our Front Desk Cornerstar, welcomes me with a big smile. From here, I walk through the kitchen area and into our open plan office space. Colleagues greet me by name, we are like one big family. But we work hard, and stress can sometimes be something that needs to be tackled pro-actively.

It is refreshing to know that mental health is a priority for us in Cornerstone. If you were to visit our office you would see not only posters with a free hotline to call if you need a professional to speak to, but also books written by Liggy Webb, such as “Mental Health: How to Look After Your Emotional Wellbeing”, dotted around the office.

Today is Thursday of Mental Health Awareness Week, and I am running a Webinar online with Liggy, which we recorded for you to watch here. We ended with a really insightful Q&A session about managing stress and creating a tonic culture, which I thought it would be great to share with you here.

Q: How does ikigai (a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”) translate through to what companies do – is it something candidates consider when applying to companies?

A: The power of purpose is definitely on the increase and is certainly relevant for companies to think about.

Q: What is your own “purpose”?

A: I love what I do, it took me a while to find my vocation but I’ve been able to set-up something I feel passionately about, around well-being and resilience. I’m still learning, but I do feel that the world needs what I do. I feel enthusiastic every day when I get up, making positive contributions and helping people feel happier, more fulfilled and resilient.

Q: How do you create a trust culture when your leadership are not leading by example?

A: I do see examples of this, but it needs to be addressed through transparency and open discussions, even if it takes people out of their comfort zones because they fear repercussions. It takes more people that have courage, and can be bolder to encourage senior managers to be authentic, and strip away the blame culture. Transparency and authenticity is key.

Q: How do you find the courage to have difficult conversations with managers and leaders?

A: It’s not easy, but it’s all about being brave and biting the bullet – if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll get the same outcome as you always did. It’s about being prepared, sometimes we overthink the repercussions, but so often that’s not the way it ends up going. Be prepared, constructive and have the evidence, and even consider up-skilling yourself on handling difficult conversations. People are actually more receptive to these kinds of conversations these days.

Q: Is it easier to change organisational culture, or to change leaders – or do we need to change both at the same time?

A: Nothing in life that has great value is easy! But it can be exciting and challenging. I work with organisations that have fantastic tonic cultures, and one of the common denominators is that they have people who are open, and allow members of their team to fail and learn from failures.

Q: Who should be sharing feedback, how and when? And how does this work with remote employees?

A: Everyone should feedback! You can encourage a culture where all members of staff feedback to each other at all levels, not in a formal, stilted way, but in a more conversational manner. Getting people to talk in a constructive way, backed by evidence is a great way to add value and develop. Feedback is great not just at work but in our personal lives as well – it is the food of progress. Maybe feedback is an antiquated term and should be re-worded as a “fruitful” conversation?

Technology is fantastic and moving forward in lots of ways so there shouldn’t really be any difference between feedback given face to face and that given using a piece of technology. It’s also important to remember to give feedback to remote employees, even though they’re not directly in front of you.

Q: What advice would you give a colleague who can’t answer one of the ikigai questions positively – maybe someone who feels stuck or misunderstood?

A: We can all talk ourselves into a way of thinking but perhaps in cases like this it is necessary to help individuals to maybe create a new way of thinking, to take a new perspective, and to help them open up and look at things from a different angle, and ask questions that maybe they haven’t yet asked themselves.

Q: Can you tell us the importance of looking after top leaders and who and how should do this?

A: Everybody has a responsibility to look after themselves, we can’t fix people, people can only fix themselves. We certainly need to make people aware of what’s available to support them, but it’s also a question of motivating people to look after themselves. Let’s not forget that part of being a leader is being a role model, and setting a positive example – so if you want your workplace to be healthy, energised and motivated, then you need to start by demonstrating this yourself first.

Q: What is the best way to support colleagues when the company’s view of agility is “work harder and achieve more”?

A: It’s a tricky one, a bit of a Pandora’s box. Some organisations aren’t yet prepared for agile working, but it’s about getting the balance right. The question organisations really need to ask themselves is “are you giving your employees everything they need to strive and succeed?" If the demands are there for productivity and results, then you really have to ensure the people have everything in place that they need to succeed, from technology to management and support.

Q: How can organisations help with learning, unlearning and relearning?

A: Time management. Many of us can get stressed because we don’t really manage our time. Building in reflection time to really stop and think is important. If we’re on the go all the time, we’re not allowing ourselves the time to do a personal audit and think “is everything I’m doing right now relevant?”, or “is this the best way to do this?”. Building in time to stop, think and reflect, and unlearn some unproductive habits is key.

Q: Do you have any real-world examples of where leaders have become role models?

A: Lots! I work with some fabulous organisations that really want to promote winning cultures, who have a huge desire to promote positive, happy workforces. I’ve had some great conversations with many people including the VP of Marketing at Cornerstone, Colette Wade, who is a great example of someone who is passionate about people being happy, healthy and positive in the workplace. Unfortunately, there are also some organisations that aren’t quite yet on-board with this and are in a kind of panic mode, thinking “oh God, we’ve got so much to do!”. They’ve come on-board late to the well-being piece and they need to play catch up!

Q: How can you promote well-being to employees who may be too busy or preoccupied at times to think of themselves – to avoid potential burnout?

A: It comes back to simplicity. If we overwhelm people with pressure and standards of well-being, that can become stressful in itself! Well-being can be an emotive topic but it’s important to make things practical and accessible, and about the marginal gains. Recognition isn’t only about the larger aspects, but also the smaller parts that can be done every day, creating different options for different people. Well-being in the workplace has come a long way in the last decade.

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