Considering that 1 in 6.8 people are experiencing mental health problems in the workplace, and 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK are being attributed to mental health conditions it’s clear that we as a society need to do something about this, and fast.
Jo Hooper, founder of the Mad and Sad Club, goes into organisations and helps employees talk, understand and take action around their own mental health. Jo has had her own experiences with managing her mental health being diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2017. 2 years later, Jo took redundancy and decided to start the Mad and Sad Club earlier this year claiming to be, ‘pretty much an expert in being mad at work.’
We speak to Jo about mental health in the workplace, what a ‘toxic’ working environment looks like, and what impact this can have on your own mental wellbeing.
What, in your opinion creates a 'toxic' working environment?
It can be a real combination of things. But I’ve experienced a toxic mixture of unachievable expectations; poor management or leadership behaviour, with that behaviour left un-checked.
Constant forward motion can also create a toxic environment - never taking a moment to acknowledge successes or learnings and instead being relentlessly focused on the next big thing.
In what way do you think employees feel they must 'act' a certain way at work?
In my experience, work can perpetuate perfectionism if you already have this tendency. Making you believe that everything you do must be perfect, with no mistakes or learnings tolerated. Perfectionism for me can be a huge anxiety trigger.
Do you think the notion of a 'corporate' working environment might ever change culturally?
I think it can, but it needs to be intentional if a corporate culture is already present, and change won’t happen over night.
In my experience, culture change is the most powerful when it’s driven from the real people in the organisation, rather than the leadership team, so people need to feel empowered and energised to try new things.
From your insights what would help progress mental wellbeing and understanding in the workplace?
Openness to hearing how people can be affected
Willingness to learn what those struggling might need from their organisation or team members
Action - not just talking, but action to change things for the better
Do you think the way we work is outdated?
…Errr, just a little bit!
The whole 9-5 structure was established during the industrial revolution, when we were all working in factories, where we needed to be together and there were no lights, so we needed to work during daylight hours.
Thankfully since the advent of electricity and more recently the internet, we DO NOT NEED to work in a little huddle between the hours of 9-5. I don’t feel that creative in the mornings, so I start my day slowly and do my admin and emails in the morning, with the afternoon reserved for creative and productive time.
I’m so much more productive and generally happier now I’m not chained to the 9 - 5.
What are your tips for those who are struggling to manage their mental health at work?
1. Recognise it. It’s scary and easier to ignore it, but that’s just going to keep you iller for longer.
2. Talk about it. If you have an employee assistance line, call them. If you feel comfortable, talk to your boss, colleague, partner or friend.
3. Try to reach a point of equilibrium before you start the work of getting better. You will likely be on a pretty big anxiety high, or deep depression. Take some time to slowly reach a more even keel before you start reading all the books, listening to the podcasts, doing the exercise. What got you to that place is most likely pushing through, so recognise that isn’t working at the moment and stop pushing.
4. Be kind to yourself. This sounds so fluffy, woo and unrealistic, but seriously, do it. Do what you need, don’t do what you don’t want to. It takes some time to get to know what does and doesn’t work for you - listen to yourself.