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Cost of mental illness within British companies? £16.7 billion.

Posted Aug 05 2010 9:02am

Birds of a feather
Perhaps you work for a company that has a 'wellness programme' designed to help keep people healthy at work? 

If not, you might like to know that the principle of these programmes, run by health advisors, is to help companies maintain fewer absences, allow staff to function better under stress, reduce injuries and physical problems and making them more productive, working with a more positive outlook.

The Economist reports that the corporate landscape is changing again, with companies moving into a new area: mental health. BT, Rolls Royce and Grant Thornton have all introduced programmes which range from training managers to spot problems, to helping rehabilitate those who suffer breakdowns.

I remember reading of France Telecom's rash of suicides at the end of last year - some 24 in 2008. This was not particularly surprising to me. For a few years, I was the creative producer for a number of brand films with mobile provider Orange. When France Telecom took it over, we sometimes worked in the Paris office. 

The atmosphere in the London Head Office was always upbeat and positive, even though everyone worked very long hours, to team and performance-straining deadlines. But it was a fun place to be. The work got done and people enjoyed themselves doing it, even if they were knackered at the end. By comparison, the Paris office - with France Telecom's seemingly heavy-weighing influence - always felt serious, tense and rather claustrophobic to me. At the time, I wondered if this was endemic across the company.

Of course, there is the whole question of whether companies should really consider people's emotional lives at all. And what happens to the information they gather? As importantly, is the assumption that promoting psychological wellness, as important as physical wellness, correct?

The magazine comments that traditionally, misfits contribute more to creativity than do 'perky optimists'. But surely, a perky optimist may not necessarily be the opposite of a misfit; a misfit may or may not be an optimist.

In my experience, good relationships between staff team members come from knowing and understanding each other; from empathising well with one another and from recognising and taking personal responsibility in a co-operative group. 

When I was a running a small production company, we achieved this in a number of ways – by encouraging positive, supportive attitudes among all the staff and working in a way that encouraged both constructive connection and cooperation between people, using good old fashioned talking coupled with a sense of humour.

My recent experience running communication training workshops for care staff in care homes strongly suggests that good relationships are at the heart of good performance. Our model and approach help staff managers to get this right - money better spent (I might modestly suggest) and a whole lot less hassle  and heartbreak than helping people recover from breakdowns.

Source: The Economist

Image: Lisa Leonard

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