It’s notoriously hard to be open about our mental health. Many people reading this will be facing their own challenges, especially as we head back into some form of lockdown. However, it’s something I feel passionately about, so I’m taking the risk of ‘putting myself out there’ in the hope it helps others.
It’s no secret that The Yardstick Agency has grown significantly over the past year or so. We’ve got a fantastic management team in Emma Moore, Michael Rose, Dan Campbell, Nick Parkhouse, and Louis Jones. However, like most start-up businesses we’re still at a stage where it relies on me as the founder in many ways.
It’s something we’re working on. But, right now, if I’m not around due to a physical or mental illness the business will suffer, especially when it comes to our long-term strategic direction. In turn, our clients’, our teams’, our shareholders’, and my family’s short-term and long-term aspirations will be affected.
That’s a responsibility which weighs heavily on my mind.
Over the past decade, I’ve suffered from periods of anxiety triggered by a specific set of circumstances linked to the pressure of work. It manifests itself in a very specific way, which I won’t bore you with right now.
Over the years I’ve had bouts of therapy usually in response to a period of anxiety. Even though therapy was often in response to a bout of anxiety it helped me to recognise the danger signs and help me to develop coping mechanisms.
Stupidly during the lockdown, I let the therapy slip. Life was busy. There was always an excuse – even though I knew it was doing me no favours.
Re-engaging with therapy
The reality check that I needed to re-engage with therapy came from an unexpected source; my annual financial planning review with Tom Morris of Ovation Finance. We had a lengthy discussion about the impact of me becoming unwell on my family, the business, my fellow shareholders, their families and so on.
If the illness is physical, we can mitigate the effects; the business has prudently set money aside and has put insurance in place.
If the problem relates to my mental health, it’s not so straightforward.
During my meeting with Tom, it slowly dawned on me that failing to look after my mental health was selfish. It felt like I was letting other people down. It gave me the kick up the backside to re-engage with therapy.
I know I’m a better manager, husband, father, and employer when I’m seeing my therapist. So, I won’t let it lapse in the future. I won’t make the same excuses because I know it’s the right thing to do for myself, my family, my colleagues. and our clients.
So, why am I writing this?
Firstly, I’ve said many times that financial planning changes lives. It’s easy to spot occasions when it leads to big life-changing events such as retirement. It’s not so easy to quantify how financial planning improves people’s mental wellbeing.
Take it from me. It does. So, to all the financial planners reading this, never underestimate the different (and often unexpected ways) you add value to your clients.
Next, I’ve always believed mental health should be given as much priority as physical health. If you have a problem with your heart, liver, or lungs you get it fixed. Why should a problem with your brain be any different? Only by talking about our mental health challenges will the stigma be reduced.
If I can encourage others to talk about their mental health, we’ll slowly break down barriers and encourage others to seek the help they need.
Next, to encourage employers to look after their employees’ mental health. Especially as we’re all heading for a few months of working from home, I believe we have a duty as employers to look after our employees’ mental wellbeing.
To help our team we’ve put a therapist on retainer and made unlimited sessions available to our employees and their spouses/partners. It felt like the right thing to do for them and us. I know several members of our team have found this option incredibly useful. We also:
- Led the way back in March (and recently) by telling the team to work remotely. The feedback that we’ve had is that our clear communications and swift action have been reassuring. As it turns out, people like clarity!
- Undertook a full, and independent, risk assessment of the office before (temporarily as it turned out!) returned to the office in bubbles. Then, implemented the recommendations so people felt that they could return to the office safely
- Each member of the management team regularly checked in on their team to make sure they were okay and provide anything they needed to help them work remotely
- Held a weekly team meeting and invited guest speakers
- Had a regular online quiz and drinks every Friday evening
- Sent unsolicited and unexpected gifts to say ‘thanks’ or lift someone’s spirits.
Businesses have an increasingly important role to play in looking after the mental health of their employees, and I am glad we have been able to support our fantastic team in this regard. Their feedback has been excellent.
Finally, I wanted to publicly say thanks to Tom Morris. Our meeting gave me the kick up the backside to get some help. I needed it. And I’m glad I did.
By writing this I hope I’ll motivate one or two readers to act. That’s the only way things will change.
So, if you’re an employer, ask yourself what more you can do to improve your employees’ mental wellbeing. If you’re a financial planner, ask yourself what more you can do for your clients. But first, as a person, ask yourself what you can do to look after your own mental wellbeing.
If anyone feels they might benefit from a chat, I’d be delighted to hear from you.