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Strategy: Engaging stakeholders

The larger the organisation the more potential stakeholders there will be to consult with.

In the real world, we often see change being driven either from a grassroots level or from the top-down, but different agendas and priorities may cause disengagement or conflict. It’s really all about how people “buy in” to the strategy. When it comes to mental health, we all have our prejudices and stereotyped attitudes.

Attitudes of senior decision-makers will make or break any strategy. They will have their own priorities when it comes to allocating resources whether that’s time or money. Senior leaders may be completely blind to considering mental health.

A bottom-up approach is often driven by observing the human impact of a crisis. We hear compelling stories of human suffering as a result of critical incidents and it’s the employees at grass-roots level who are often at the sharp end. However, those at the higher level of the organisation may be remote from this rationale and many senior managers even resist any investment of limited resources – seeing it as a luxury or even “pink and fluffy.”

Conversely, a top-down approach is often driven by a need to address sickness absence but this can be seen by others as profits driven, “bums on seats” or lip service. Understanding and respecting different rationales and resistance is important.

A good strategy should be able to cover all motivating factors whether they are driven by financial, wellbeing, business continuity, legal or regulatory issues etc., but this needs to be explicitly communicated from the outset and drawn together collaboratively across the organisation.

Where senior-decision makers have the best of intentions, the whole strategy can still fail as it is implemented.

Without a clear buy in, line managers and supervisors may see it as yet another job for them to implement with no real benefit to them.

Ignoring mental health problems is common, sometimes due to lack of awareness or feeling unable to do anything but there are still many managers who have very poor people skills. They can cultivate a culture of stigma and fear.

Even when they genuinely care about their team, without guidance, line managers who don’t know what to do to help will usually do nothing. They often feel disempowered adding to their own stress. It’s also common for them to abdicate total responsibility to HR or external support services and ignore people who are off sick – out of sight, out of mind.

This often comes from a fear of doing the wrong thing.

However, with appropriate crisis informed mental health awareness training, line managers are uniquely placed to provide support and can greatly influence culture and attitudes. Most teams follow the lead they are set.

There will be other stakeholders such as trade unions and professional bodies, Health and Safety representatives, business continuity and crisis management teams. Considering the human impact of a crisis or trauma may be a very peripheral part of their other role but their buy-in still matters.

In practice, for many of these roles, mental health is just not on their radar. The Business Continuity Institute Horizon Scan report found health incidents and safety incidents were the second and third biggest disruptions in 2020 yet were rated as 8th and 15th place for future threats.

All employees (at every level) have the responsibility to engage in health and wellbeing initiatives and observe safe systems of work. For those who are more likely to encounter critical events, crisis-informed resilience training can be very beneficial. If they understand the nature of traumatic stress, and are aware of helpful coping strategies, they can take their part in healthy behaviours, feel in control of their recovery and have an expectancy of a return to full functioning. This will help them to be resilient and “bounce back” effectively. It also has the added effects of reducing stigma and making everyone the eyes and ears for colleagues’ welfare. Services need to be accessible. Engaging people remains a huge problem if it is not addressed as part of the strategy.

Finally, professional support teams, whether this is done via the Human Resources department or an outsourced Employee Assistance Provider, are responsible for providing clinically effective group and individual interventions, liaising with senior management regarding implementation and trends and advising on rehabilitation plans.

A good strategy will dovetail across all existing services rather than providing one-stop solutions. By working collaboratively across disciplines, we create an organisational culture of openness, acceptance and awareness.

Initial questions to consider:

Which policies and stakeholders are associated with mental health?

Which policies and stakeholders are associated with managing an organisational crisis or major incident? These could have little or no focus on mental health but may still link to the subject.

What training or initiatives are currently provided to support employees’ mental health / wellbeing?

For more informative resources on strategies for creating resilient organisations, please see the following link.

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