Mental Health in the Workplace - still a taboo for leaders?

9 October 2017

Mental Health in the Workplace - still a taboo for leaders?

This year’s #worldmentalhealthday falls on Tuesday 10 October. We spoke to Dr Caroline Rook about her recent research around stress at the top and how best to maintain wellbeing and prevent exhaustion in leaders.

This year’s theme set by the World Federation for Mental Health is focused on the workplace. Indeed, workplaces now run mental health first aider programmes to give line managers the practical skills to recognise the symptoms of mental health problems and how to guide a person towards appropriate professional help. The taboo of mental health and stress in the workplace is slowly being broken. Next to mental health initiatives, employee health and stress prevention programmes are in place in many organisations across the UK, as organisations now agree that there is a clear business case for the role that well-being plays in job performance and overall productivity. 

We focus on how line managers and leaders need to support employee well-being. But what about the leaders themselves?

Expectation of everyday top-performance can push some executives to depression and exhaustion. However, senior executives, who want to seem strong in front of staff and shareholders, will not allow signs of weakness or reduced performance as these could have a negative impact on their career progression. It is hard to tell how many executives are affected by too high stress levels:

“The rarity with which top executives admit to suffering from stress must mean boards are underestimating the occurrence of stress-related illness at the top - with potentially dire consequences.” 

Evidently, there is a need for a rigorous approach to evaluate senior executive stress that can look below the surface and determines dangerous stress levels. In our latest research - Stress in Executives: Discussing the ‘Undiscussable’ – we have developed a protocol that allows for a more realistic stress management approach by paying attention to psychological clues in every day life situations and conversations that signal irrational behaviour patterns that are caused by severe levels of stress.

We developed an interview protocol, drawn from studies on stress, that we call the Stress APGAR. This protocol provides particularly executive coaches with a solid framework to evaluate stress in senior executives. It can be used to identify key areas of concern and to develop focus points for coaching relationships. 

You can find out more about Dr Caroline Rook’s research on how to enable sustainable high-performance leadership and healthy organisations. 

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