“For the first time, there is collective agreement”

Tuesday 19 May 2020
The Covid-19 crisis may be a watershed for how we view and manage employees’ mental health, says the CEO and co-founder of city mental health alliance

Poppy Jaman is CEO and co-founder of City Mental Health Alliance (CHMA), an organisation that works with senior leaders in large businesses to help transform their workplaces into mentally healthy environments. In a recent podcast, she shared thoughts with the CMI community about the mental health impacts of the Covid-19 crisis.

How has the crisis affected the mental health agenda? Companies’ engagement has never been higher, says Poppy. “In the current climate, I would expect everyone to have experience of a struggle with mental health. Mental health literacy will grow exponentially and we will all understand better the need to support mental health initiatives and to ensure the wellbeing of all of our staff.”

For organisations that were already ahead of the curve on creating a culture of positive mental health, “all of their initiatives are being tested right now. They are reporting that their employees have felt confident to reach out and seek help because that culture was already within their business – for example, normalising the conversation around bringing your whole self to work, talking about your mental health, buy-in from the top of the organisation.

“They’re not doing that just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it has a positive impact on the bottom line. It’s critical to business success and prosperity and enhances your reputation, more people want to contract with you and work with you.”

Encouragingly, Poppy is seeing mental health being taken more seriously: “For the first time, there is a collective agreement and boards are monitoring and taking responsibility for people’s mental health and wellbeing.”

She identifies a particular challenge with isolation among young people who rely more on social interactions beyond their home; they also use going to work as a clear break between home and work life.

There is still a lot to do to upskill organisations on how to deal with mental health and create positive working environments for everyone. But Poppy remains optimistic: “There’s a lot of innovative problem-solving taking place.” During the crisis, CHMA has delivered web-based training involving 14,000 staff, and reached out across the world to create culturally appropriate training materials. “I think a lot of this innovation will come out of the revival stage of the pandemic.”

For CHMA itself, the sudden and dramatic move to homeworking had limited effect. “As a virtual organisation, we haven’t had to take the leap of working from home because our whole team, all around the world, already work from home,” says Poppy, “but we are definitely missing each other, especially the hugs.”

One effect is that they’ve had to become even more agile and reactive in response to their members’ needs. And, in general, Poppy believes the crisis has created a leadership opportunity, in which managers can focus on flexibility and create the freedom to experiment and not be perfect.

Overall, she believes the crisis may prove to be a watershed. “The lack of understanding around mental health has been a big issue, so the increase in mental health literacy will be a really positive outcome from this crisis.”

Click here to find out more about the work that City Mental Health Alliance does. You can also follow Poppy Jaman on Twitter for more mental health tips and insights.

Check out CMI’s Leading Through Uncertainty hub for more Covid-19 related content.

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