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.