In Episode 2 of Thrive’s Leading with Impact podcast, Pam spoke to Dr Nick Taylor, founder and CEO of Unmind. The award-winning company focuses on building mentally healthier workplaces, and helps employees to lead more fulfilling and balanced lives by changing the way organisations think about mental health. Since its inception in 2016 Unmind has grown to 130 people; 100 of which were brought on during the COVID pandemic.
Growing a company remotely
Dr Taylor kicked off the conversation by giving some tips on where to invest when scaling up a business both remotely, and in uncertain times, and what he would have prioritised if he did it all again.
- Investing in a ‘people team’ – they will be instrumental in employee experience and maintaining culture
- Investing early on in defining your values, and articulate them very clearly to new staff so that they have full clarity on the type of company they are joining
- Investing in the hiring process, so that everyone can take part fairly
- Investing in the onboarding process, so that people feel part of the company
Investment is vital in laying the foundation for a well-balanced team.
The importance of ‘checking in’
“You can never be too busy to ask someone how they are – there’s no excuse for not being able to make the time to ask that question genuinely…”
Checking in with staff members is the easiest way to assess their wellbeing, and to show that you’re listening. A simple and sincere “how are you?” can make all the difference.
Dr Taylor also feels that as a society we don’t prioritise listening and shares what he sees as the most common mistake; responding to ‘I’ve had a terrible day’ with ‘I’ve also had a terrible day’, as though the sharing of your own bad experience somehow makes them feel better. He suggests that a much better way to respond is to say ‘I’m sorry that you’ve had a terrible day’ to give the person space to talk.
If you’re avoiding asking your staff how they are because you’re anxious that you might not know how to respond to the answer, Dr Taylor advocates for normalising not knowing – the vast majority of the time, people don’t want an answer, or a solution. They will feel better, and more supported, just by telling someone what they are feeling out loud. Make ‘making time’ to ask people how they are an essential part of your management practice. Long term, you will see the benefit in productivity and output. People are the most valuable asset in any company, and to encourage their best performance, you need to invest your time in them.
Everyone has mental health – and prevention is better than cure
“If you want to be highly productive, you need to create an environment where there’s a lot of psychological safety”
Dr Taylor points out that everyone is born with mental health, in the same way that we are born with physical health, or dental health. Once we begin to see it this way, the stigma starts to melt away. Unmind’s core philosophy is that ‘prevention is better than cure’. There are unspoken daily expectations of people, for example, we brush our teeth twice a day for our dental health, we know we should exercise regularly for our physical health, but there are no similar expectations around mental health, mostly due to stigma around the topic.
Dr Taylor draws a parallel between the way both dental and physical health products are advertised and sold to us, noting that toothbrushes are always advertised with white teeth – “You won’t get anywhere selling dental items with rotten teeth”. We should position mental health and wellbeing aspirationally – we all have it and far from it being all about problems, it’s a wonderful part of the human experience that should be nurtured and celebrated. Organisations shifting into that mindset, are going to see the long term value of increased performance, a great reputation, and a better culture.
The importance of uniqueness
“We each are unique, we each have had a different journey…it’s important to recognise this…to understand how best to support your people”
Dr Taylor feels that the pandemic has presented a golden opportunity to normalise wellbeing and mental health, and has given businesses scope to highlight it. He also stresses that no two wellbeing strategies are the same. To work, they need to be unique to both the organisation, and the individual.
He describes the workplace as ‘resembling a jigsaw puzzle rather than a picture – there will be lots of pieces to it.’ The language used should resonate with the language of the organisation. It is crucial to have senior leadership buy in, a specific budget allocation, and to make sure that strategy is a long-term strategy. Short-term commitments will ultimately fail.
He also points out that as people, we are all unique, especially in our work, which has been highlighted during the pandemic. Whether we have been frontline workers, furloughed, grown successful businesses, been carers or parents (even our living situations and ages may be poles apart), it’s important to recognise the different journey that everyone in your workforce has had. There is no one solution – you have to take a person-by-person approach to work out how best to support your people as a whole.
Dr Taylor points out that while the trend of leaders sharing their own, or their family members’ lived experience of mental health topics was brilliant, the time has come to move on from that. To embed prevention and optimism, leaders need to move into sharing that they have mental health all of the time. They need to be sharing how they’re feeling with their workforce; ‘I’m tired today’, ‘I’ve had a stressful couple of weeks’, ‘I’m happy today, things are going well’. When we normalise the topic it’s easier to have the conversation about ongoing mental health.
Dr Nick Taylor’s tips for improving your wellbeing, and maintaining mental wellness:
- Practise gratitude – notice things you’re grateful for
- Try and stay in the present moment – also known as mindfulness
- Prioritise sleep
- Make sure you’re making time to connect with people
- Invest in learning – this is crucial for mental wellbeing
- Keep track of your own moods – it can help you learn about yourself and keep you focused
Dr Taylor recommends looking at how we, as organisations, are going to keep our focus on wellbeing as we move into the next chapter. The concept of looking after your wellbeing was already out there but the intensity of lockdown has made it a focus topic as we resurface on the other side. Everything will not just go back to how it was before. People will not forget the trauma and difficulties, which means leaders need to think long term about the wellbeing of their people.