Our Thoughts

It’s Time to Change the way we think about mental health

Our people aren’t just important to the success of our business. They are our business. Taking good care of them, as we do our clients, is therefore a fundamental part of our working culture.

The growing focus on good mental health shows us the challenge that this presents – mental ill health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK. It’s a statistic that shouldn’t surprise us – we live in an age of intensive sales targets and fast-paced technological change that allows us to stay connected to work, even when we should be switching off at home. ­­­­­

But does this hyper-competitive business environment actually boost results? A stressful workplace can both cause mental ill-health and act as a trigger to those who may be vulnerable to it, with a negative impact on absenteeism, output and employee retention.

Despite stress being a recognised form of mental ill-health, 95% of employees who call in sick with stress are unwilling to cite it as a reason. And while 67% of people would talk about mental ill health to their family, only 12% would talk to a work colleague and 3% to a HR team (CBI, 2017). There is clearly a strong stigma surrounding mental health at work and the resulting discrimination can deter people from seeking help, delay treatment and allow stress and anxiety to grow into more serious conditions.

It’s an issue that pervades every industry and organisation, and to which no-one is immune. In property, we do a good job at considering wellbeing when it comes to serving our clients, whether designing buildings that facilitate a healthy workforce, or providing landlords with strategies and services that promote the welfare of occupiers.

However, as an industry we do not always live these values within our own organisations. We are a fast-paced industry with enormous opportunity, but often with high pressure from deal deadlines and high levels of accountability. Mental ill health could affect any one of us, and we must get ahead of the curve when it comes to breaking the taboo. 

The business case for addressing mental health is clear. But it’s about more than the bottom line. It’s about creating a working culture that fosters open and transparent conversation. It’s about examining the risks surrounding aggressive working practices and a culture of blame that creates unnecessary pressure on employees. And it’s about senior role models speaking up to de-stigmatise these issues. If employees feel supported and able to speak up without fear of isolation, the impact on motivation and productivity will follow.

That’s why we have signed the Time to Change Employer Pledge, a growing social movement that aims to change the way we think about mental health, and the kinds of support we have in the workplace. We will start with a comprehensive year-long plan focusing on awareness training for managers, rolling out a mental health first aid training programme and hosting a series of awareness events for employees. And that’s just the beginning.

Addressing mental health in the long term requires a culture shift across our industry. It means not just focusing on results, but on the wellbeing of our people – and understanding that those things are the same.

On Monday 8 October, BNP Paribas Real Estate signed the Time to Change Employer Pledge. For more information, visit https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/.

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