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Omar Oakes 

'More mental-health support needed' as WFH end in sight

'More mental-health support needed' as WFH end in sight

Media companies should offer employees therapy to help them cope with the high-stress environment of returning back to the office, Mediatel’s Future of Diversity conference was told today.

Jamie Klingler, MD at professional development platform Incite and a founding member of the Reclaim These Streets activist group, warned that therapy and mental-health support services are “not as common as they should be” in the UK media and advertising industries.

“Here, less than in the US, the idea of therapy is not espoused as it should be... there’s a route in for companies to offer that support and to underwrite [it],” she said.

Reclaim These Streets was formed to remember Sarah Everard, the marketing executive who was murdered whilst walking home in  South London earlier this year, and all women lost to violence.

'There are going to be missteps' as people return to offices

Klingler, speaking during the Returning to Work: The opportunity to build a better workplace session, also warned that companies need to be mindful of the mental-health toll that people will have suffered over the last 16 months of working from home, as well as the anxiety they may face with having to get used to working in an office again and socialising with colleagues.

She said: “Everyone’s mental health has been compromised and none of us are the same as we were 16 months ago. And then you’re putting all these people that haven’t been seeing [each other], who are excited and nervous, and you’re putting them in situations and pouring alcohol on it.

"Our industry is rife with the amount of drinking that goes on.... We’re nervous about all of that and there are going to be missteps. There’s going to be people not being normal because we’ve lost our idea of normal.”

Klingler suggested that people need to create “buffers” for each other with the understanding that people will make faux pas or social missteps as they reintegrate themselves into office life.

Home has been a 'safe space' for grieving employees

Key to navigating this is being authentic at work, the panel heard, with Women’s Association Deborah Williams urging people to have “collaborative conversations” at work, in which people are encouraged to express feelings more as part of professional life.

For example, she said: “There are people that have lost family and their home has been their safe space… going back to work is going to thrust them into something different that makes them start to experience that grief.”

Williams founded the Women’s Association after suffering a breakdown, which was driven by a struggle to live up to expectations of being “a certain type of black woman”.

“If you continue to come to work and play up to whatever they expect you to be that day, ultimately you lose yourself and that’s what ended up happening to me,” she said. “I didn’t know who I was or how to navigate my journey in isolation of what everyone was telling me I should be.”

Paul Frampton-Calero, European president of performance marketing company Control vs Exposed, revealed that, as a network agency CEO his professional and personal lives had radically diverged.

He explained: “Everything was about being the CEO of this company and I didn’t recognise myself when I went home. I started to look at how I behaved and my beliefs in the workplace and what I really believed in and there was a conflict there… I wanted to be that one self, that one authentic self, and express what I believed in and build a culture that actually was caring about people, was able to invest in inclusion, as opposed to being told ‘we can’t spend budget on that type of thing because the P&L can’t tolerate it.”

Stigma around mental health

Pippa Glucklich, the incoming CEO of Electric Glue, moderated the panel and spoke candidly about the suicide of her husband five years ago and how “it took a tragic loss to stop me in my tracks”.

“I was CEO of Starcom, I was about to move to a big new job at another network, and I look back now and I think ‘I don’t know what it was I was chasing or why it was so important to me." Glucklich said: "I got caught up in this hamster wheel of ‘bigger and better’ and more power. It’s actually really not me.”

She went on: “The week that my husband died I was running a big pitch; it was the most important thing in my world at the time, I was working late on it and I was not paying him much attention. I will always wonder if, had I not been not so obsessed with work, I might’ve noticed, he might’ve felt more able to talk to me.

"I will talk about it openly, partly to remove the stigma of mental health and partly because, as a leader, I’ve still got enormous challenges in my life that I’m dealing with, which impact how I show up at work…. [leaders] don’t have all the answers and they may have made some mistakes along the way.”

In order to combat the particular challenges many men face in talking about their feelings of anxiety or loneliness, Frampton-Calero said he takes part in “Men Day”, a monthly support group in which 12 men talk through issues such as divorce, ego, work and identity.

“That [support] will help men be better supporters of women in their teams, be better husband or partners, because they suddenly realise they can open up and help more.”

The Samaritans provides a 24-hour service for talking about suicide and provides a range of support services. You can contact them for free by calling 116 123, email  jo@samaritans.org  or visit the website  to find your nearest branch.

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