Q&A with Rob Stephenson, Founder of the InsideOut

So Rob, you founded Inside-Out.org with the aim of smashing the stigma around mental ill-health in the workplace. What inspired you to embark on this journey?

The inspiration was personal. I experience bipolar disorder and for years I learned to manage this condition with only close friends and family knowing about it.  In my keynotes I often talk about putting the word “Physio” in my diary every time I visited my therapist, for years. My team, who I loved and respected, must have thought I had the worst physiotherapist in the history of physiotherapy that could not fix my “back injury”.  In 2017, II was inspired to come out and share my story which I did in a pretty awkward Facebook post. However, it was the reaction to this post that inspired me to change direction and join the movement of those looking to smash the stigma of mental ill-health. My eyes were opened to how common it was to experience a mental health challenge in silence.  I felt compelled to get involved.

Can you tell us a bit about your InsideOut LeaderBoard?

InsideOut is a social enterprise with a mission of ending the stigma of mental ill-health in the workplace by creating a ripple effect of senior leaders who are willing to speak out about their own lived experience. Each year, we publish a list of senior leaders from our workplaces who are open about their experience of mental ill-health. The list is designed to celebrate each leader who has decided to be open, thus playing their part in ending the stigma and helping others in their organisation speak out and seek help. Senior Leaders are important as, if they share their stories and really get behind the mental health agenda, we see the process of culture change happen much faster than in other organisations.

And I understand that you also run The InsideOut Mental Health Awards. What are these awards celebrating?

The Awards are a celebration of our mental health and those individuals and organisations who are championing it.  They are designed to showcase excellence in employee mental health and wellbeing and inspire other organisations to pick up the baton.

What are the most common challenges to mental wellbeing that you see in UK workplaces?

I think that the workplace itself can be a challenge to employee mental health with a lot of psychologically unsafe work being created. We will start to see a backlash against this in the next few tears in my opinion.  Other common and connected challenges include: inappropriate line management; always on cultures; doing more with less resource; economic uncertainly; globalisation and extension of the working day; financial stress.. I could go on.  For me, the purpose of our corporations needs to evolve to include the health of employees (as well as impact on the environment and communities) to sit alongside the creation of shareholder value as a core part of their reason for existence.

How important is workplace flexibility to a person’s mental wellbeing, in your view?

I think flexibility and agility is very important to a person’s wellbeing and closely linked to trust and empowerment of employees to do their jobs.  We should be allowing people to manage their lives (including work) as adults. If we can do this we will see the rewards. We also need to be mindful of creating cultures where people are still getting the social connections with work colleagues that they need to thrive. This is also a core driver of wellbeing and I suspect that some organisations are pushing for flexibility as a cost saver more than a people enabler.

I understand that at the Flexpo conference, you are going to be starting off your talk with a ‘how are you today’ session. What does this mean and why is it so important?

We are asked the question “How are you?” 20-30 times a day and we rarely answer it honestly.  I have been helping people and organisations answer this question authentically by adding the word “today” on the end and encouraging people to answer it with a score out of ten.  After sharing my mental form score, I will invite the audience to reflect on theirs and have a chat about it. I have done this at the start of many keynotes and the response is always electric.  The outcome? Meaningful human connection.

I am actually building some technology that will help facilitate this and I think that it could be highly relevant to those who work flexible.  As someone who does exactly that, I can relate to the disconnection one can sometimes feel.

What are you most looking forward to at Flexpo?

I am really looking forward to the reaction in the room to the “How are you today?” exercise but also having a fascinating chat with some great panellists and bringing a perspective on mental health top the discussion.

Q&A with Han-Son Lee, Founder of DaddiLife

1. You run the very successful dads’ network Daddilife – can you tell us a bit about it?

DaddiLife is a platform for modern day fatherhood and a community of over 150,000 dads. 

I set it up 3 years ago because I believed (and still do) that dads are going through a generational shift when it comes to their day to day parenting, and need a platform that talks to them on their terms.

Last year we ran a research programme in association with Deloitte called The Millennial Dad at Work – which featured in depth research with over 2000 working dads to create the first comprehensive look into the work/life issues affecting today’s new generation of parents. Its since had a PR reach of almost 5 million and has opened up the pathway for more change for dads at work, largely as the research showed just how many dads were already ‘voting with their feet’ so to speak in finding employers who would understand their new family/work balance.

Flexible working is an area that we’re actively campaigning for, and through our Dads at Work hub we get a chance to shine the spotlight on those issues, success stories and our contribution to making that change happen faster.

2. What programmes is Daddilife focusing on for 2020?

Content: We’ll be continuing to focus on new ways of working for dads, and indeed wider modern day family. So expect to see much more dads at work content, but also new ways in which dads are getting more involved in family life as a whole. A great example of that is dad changing bags. It was a product category that simply didn’t exist 5 years ago, but now is one of the must have items for new dads! 

Hopefully we can be having the same conversation about flexible working and dads in the next 5 years.

Support: We run a very specialized dad mentoring programme in partnership with The Parent Mentor and Avenir Consulting. In it we connect applicants with external mentors to drive significant culture change. We call it ‘New coding for organisations and their working dads.’

Change: There are also bespoke areas we’re helping specific organisations who are serious about a change when it comes to their modern day dads at work. 

3. What are the most difficult aspects of being a modern working dad?

One of the call our stats from our research was that only just over half of the dads we have interviewed thought that they were treated equally to mums when it came to being a parent at work.

That’s a pretty shocking state of affairs, and what I see is that the stereotypes of ‘dads role at work’ is still omnipresent throughout our working culture. 

Unless we get the equation right for dads, we can’t get the equation right for mums or indeed wider thriving modern family. It’s all interconnected.

But the prize if we do get it right is massive – it’s modern day thriving family. And in these times of great change, that’s one area that could be a beacon of great success for our country. 

4. How can employers improve things for working dads?  

It’s important to say first that there is no silver bullet. We have done a lot of research with a huge number of organisations, large and small, and the dad context in each is always different.

What I would say is that there has to be a real need and a real determination to change things. It takes a particular type of forward thinking employer to see how dads need to play catch up when it comes to real gender equality at work. 

One area I would say does need consideration as a whole is that men’s emotional language is different at work – we aren’t always the best at being vulnerable at work, so the specific methods of kick starting change need different consideration to say what would be in place for new mums to be at work.

5. Can you tell us about what you will be talking about at the Flexpo Midlands event?

I’ve got the pleasure of being on 2 panels at the event:

Firstly, I’ll be on the Employer Stories panel sharing my specific journey of working flexibly in a very demanding role. 

Secondly, I’ll be on the returners panel, sharing my tips and advice around returning back to work after a significant period out of the office.

For both I’ll be sharing more of the dad perspective, but also how mums and dads can forge better parental partnerships at work too.

6. What are you most looking forward to at Flexpo Midlands?

I really enjoyed the London event last year. It’s superb that events like Flexpo exist because they show us what change is possible, together. 

Dads are a core part of the conversation now, and I’m really looking forward to taking things up another level with this event in the Midlands.