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Mental health problems in the workplace are some of the biggest roadblocks to progress, according to a group of CFOs and Finance Directors from a broad cross section of businesses.

Make a Difference Media and Generation CFO co-hosted the workshop which was led by Starbucks EMEA financial director Jonny Jacobs. The open discussion was around organisations preparing their employees for another ‘new normal’, as the latest lockdown measures in the UK are relaxed.

Gerald Dawson, a portfolio FD, said there was a ‘lack of comfort’ around terminology to do with mental health that doesn’t exist with physical health. Dawson said: “Every business understands health and safety. You look at pathways through factories, signage and markings and it is all really obvious and clear. But then you start talking about mental health, which is 24-hour, seven days a week, and suddenly we have left the comfort zone and most of it is invisible. We just don’t have the vocabulary and the mindset yet to treat it in the same way.”

Set against a backdrop of disturbing statistics from the World Health Organisation that depression, anxiety and loneliness have doubled during the pandemic, there was a general consensus that addressing mind health and mental fitness was now a moral obligation for companies to fulfil.

Learn more about mental health in the workplace

The financial leaders from companies including Kelloggs, Ipsos and Zurich Insurance all agreed that the key to progress was creating a trusting environment where people felt safe to share their experiences and open the door to a deeper understanding. At the same time, they recognised that this was not easy to achieve.

Jonny Jacobs from Starbucks said: “Research shows that the majority of people are afraid to talk to their line manager so the language we use is really important. A big part of getting mental health right is about talking.”

Sanjay Jawa, CFO of sponsor, Kooth plc, suggested that getting the language right was down to the CFO. He said: “As CFOs we are by our nature data driven, but in areas such as mental health we’re not yet collecting the right data. This means that there is yet to be the investment employees need from their employers into mental health and wellbeing. This has a compounding effect, as it leaves staff who are on sick leave for mental health reasons unsure if they can tell their teams the true reason for their absence and it becomes even harder to create accurate, quantifiable data.

“Employers have to be seen to be taking the lead, and a small investment in this area will pay dividends, not only in the mental health and wellbeing of employees but also the quality of the information available to the company.”

Hear more from Jonny Jacobs at Starbucks around mental fitness in business

Looking to the future David Sayers, Partner and Practice Lead for the CFO practice of recruitment consultancy Green Park, indicated the importance of a clear mental fitness strategy to attract and retain the stars of the next generation. He said: “Increasingly when I speak to candidates, they ask What is the company’s stance around mental health, wellbeing and support?

“If you don’t have an answer to that question, you start your recruitment journey way behind other organisations. You just don’t get these people into the room.”

The think-tank took place on March 12 and was co-hosted virtually by Make a Difference Media and GenerationCFO and was sponsored by Kooth Plc.