Nick Elston had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as a boy. It was mistreated, and as Elston grew up, it morphed into Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which he lived with until he reached breaking point.
He recalls leaving a networking event and weeping in his car. It was a point of realisation for Elston. From that point on, he started being more honest with himself and others about his mental health.
He is now a speaker on mental health and a founding member of the Initiative for Financial Wellbeing. In his keynote at ICAEW’s Virtually Live conference, he was brutally honest about his own experiences and shared his knowledge on how to manage mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
“We have all the answers, we just don't ask ourselves the right questions,” he says. “And if we do, then sometimes we can be afraid of the truth. That's really important to recognise that most of our conditioning lies within us.”
People often break down or burnout due to two factors: they are always acting a part, and they don’t rest enough. “Where do you feature in your own life? Every single day, there should be a part of that day that's for you to recharge and recover and go again strong tomorrow.”
This is something to look out for in yourself and in your staff. If you do think a staff member might be struggling, it’s important that you don’t try to fix them, says Elston – it could make things worse. Instead, really listen to what they have to say. “People just want to be heard, and they want to be understood. If you can fulfil those two things for anybody, they will find their own way forward.”
If you’re struggling too, it’s important that you don’t put your own mental health to one side for your employees’ sake. It’s unlikely that you’ll be much help. “The UK has a real problem in that we can consider self-care selfish, that we will feel guilty about looking after ourselves first and foremost,” Elston says. “But actually, if we don't do that, then we cannot be strong enough to help other people.”
If you want to have deeper conversations with your colleagues, employees or clients, you need to be prepared to show more of yourself, says Elston. You should not be afraid, as a leader, to show vulnerability. Be open with your people and they’re more likely to be open with you. Then could mental health and open conversations will become part of the organisation’s culture.
“As somebody that comes into organisations, I can tell immediately whether [mental health and wellbeing] is a tick-box exercise, or whether there's a real culture, and for me that's what it is about. Having passionate ambassadors, humanising professional relationships, giving a little bit of yourself, even just a little bit.”
Elston gives the current situation, in which organisations have no choice but to make people redundant, as a good example of when this kind of open, vulnerable leadership is needed. Managers should try to empathise with both the staff that will keep their jobs and the people that will lose them. “Show a little bit of yourself just to make sure that people feel that they're actually being treated as a human.”
ICAEW Live: 17&18 June 2021
ICAEW Live 2021 is a two-day event on 17 and 18 June following on from Virtually Live in bringing members in practice and business together. Register your interest today to benefit from the early bird rate!