The concept of only bringing your carefully curated ‘business self’, complete with suit and smile - no matter what may be going on in your personal life - is, frankly, outdated. More and more organisations are instead embracing the idea that employees are (brace yourselves) - people. Blair Melsom AMBCS looks at why employees should bring their ‘whole self’ to work.

Remaining in constant ‘corporate mode’ is detrimental to mental health as it’s both unnatural and unsustainable, so encouraging people to bring their ‘whole self’ to work creates a culture where problems as well as successes can be shared, leading to a happier and more engaged workforce in the long term.

Bringing your whole self to work doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly share all your deepest thoughts with your finance manager at the photocopier, but it does mean you can be your authentic self so people know who you are and what you’re about.

We all have ‘off’ days; we all experience a range of emotions, varied levels of stress and seemingly never enough sleep, yet we know that being productive at work and projecting a certain façade is often what’s expected. It can make you dread the thought of another day in the office, but knowing that it’s ok not to be ok can take some of the pressure off.

BCS is an organisation that has embraced the ‘whole self’ concept; in fact, Being Human is one of its core values. Here are just some of the things it does to make things better for staff at work:

  • A health and wellbeing hub which host a wealth of information.
  • Yoga, pilates, body balance, mindfulness and acupressure on site.
  • Raising mental health awareness across the organisation, including using the NHS Thrive app.
  • Training line managers in mental health and techniques to help staff when they experience poor mental health.
  • 17 dedicated mental health first aiders (working towards at least 10% of the workforce trained up across the business with a mixture of age, gender, job role and department).
  • Plans for a health and wellbeing strategy, to build an environment in which people can thrive at work.

The mental health first aiders (MHFA) are an integral part of the business. Louise Nuttall, Head of HR at BCS says ‘It’s creating a community whereby people can go to someone to share confidentially how they are feeling and get support from them. When we conducted a survey last year, most people said they felt more comfortable sharing how they feel with a close friend or family member, but some said they would prefer to go to a MHFA for support. We also encourage and support employees to share how they’re feeling with line managers, to ensure that work is a safe environment for people to be at their best, whilst making allowances when times are tough.’

‘People shouldn’t suffer in silence,’ she adds, ‘and as an organisation, we can do something to create an internal network of people to help, challenge assumptions and remove stigmas. As a person who has experienced depression, anxiety and bereavement over my lifetime, knowing I can do something to help others who are not in a good place is extremely important to me. Even more so when they have sought support and they are now in a much better place; knowing I helped contribute to this makes me feel incredibly proud.’

Things could not be more different from the days when people would be expected to leave all aspects of their personal lives at home. Now, as well as being able to share how they feel, employees can use the workplace to find out about the myriad services available to help with their wellbeing, as well as methods of managing the ever-elusive work / life balance.

Luke Kuczynski, Digital Marketing Executive and trained MHFA explains ‘I feel comfortable suggesting the appropriate actions to take, you can never force someone to take a particular action but it’s so important to give them options of where they can get help or what they can do.’ As for the benefits being a mental health first aider bring, he says, ‘I believe that any organisation across all sectors can benefit from MHFA England training and it should be an integral part of their duty to help support employees. To me, the reward of being a mental health first aider is that my colleagues know that I am trained to deal with questions around mental health. To be able to spot signs of stresses and strains and help colleagues work on preventative steps to declining mental health is one of the most rewarding things I do at BCS.’

The more openly mental health is discussed both in and out of work, the faster the associated stigma will fade. As Scott McGunigle, Customer Service Manager and MHFA at BCS explains, ‘There’s this idea that only weak or fragile people are susceptible to poor mental health - it’s absolutely not true - everyone, once pushed to their limit of stress, strain and mental capacity, faces the risk of experiencing the effects of mental health related conditions. Everyone has a breaking point and [MHFAs are] needed to help each and every one of us identify our capacity and set in place a positive structure for how we live and work (and combine the two) in order to manage our lifestyle and work styles effectively.’

The pressure to keep everything in and present only a perfect, productive facsimile of ourselves is going out of style as quickly in the workplace as it is on social media. Unrealistic expectations are being called out and replaced by a shift towards balance and authenticity. Mood and morale are intrinsically linked to productivity, so being able to bring your whole self to work and having the appropriate support available when needed is key.

Related links

To find out more about the mental health first aid services available to organisations, visit MHFA England.