Looking after your employees' mental health

According to statistics, Bristol University has the highest suicide rate of any other campus in the UK. Alarmingly, teenage suicide appears to be on the rise in general in the UK, particularly among young men.

Social media and the pressures that come with it must be part of the picture. People can make their lives appear glossy and perfect at the click of the button, when the reality is almost always somewhat different. The image we portray to the world as our personal “shop window” more often than not bears little resemblance to what really happens in our day-to-day lives.

I can only feel grateful that social media wasn’t around when I was a teenager, and I pity my children because their lives are now so inextricably linked with social networking sites like Snapchat and Instagram that prizing their phones off them is a huge challenge. 

Teenage angst is awful and I wouldn’t want to go back there, but how ironic is it that you become your most confident just as you start to enter the last third of your life? It’s the travesty of the circle of life that you have the most insecurities about your personality, body and attractiveness when you are technically at your most in shape. 

As a boss, it’s increasingly evident to me that the pastoral element of my job is becoming more important. Mental health is an issue that any good people manager must factor in; understanding it, knowing where to get help, talking about it and, above all, listening, are vital and evermore important parts running a team.

We are lucky enough to have a team length of service treble that of the UK average (4.5 years) in our sector. But alongside that comes the realisation that people need constant and ever-changing support, and will go through good times and bad during their working life.

As a boss I have dealt with engagement, marriage, divorce, bereavement, depression, anxiety, IVF, adoption and extremely personal issues involving dealing with changing sexuality, and none of those have an age limit. I’ve supported three of our team members through terminal cancer and the effect it has had on their colleagues (and me) has been life changing. 

Bristol University wants to implement a scheme for its students to sign a mandate giving the staff the option of contacting their parents should they be concerned about their mental health. I’ve often wanted to call the parents of our young team members when I’ve been concerned about them, and it’s gutting that I can’t because it’s not permissible to get in touch if the young person is over 18.

Still, I’m looking into doing the same sort of thing in the salon and creating a policy where if an employee gives their consent, I can get in touch. Mental health is everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility, not just parents or employers. So, we all need to adopt the mantra, “Let’s get talking”, and do just that. 

Hellen Ward Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London, one of the most profitable independent salons in the UK. She is beauty ambassador for The National Beauty Federation (NBF)

Read Ward's advice on getting the beauty industry the recognition it deserves, selling your salon or spa business and handling staff appraisals in the right way

Check out these resources for mental health support and tips for investing in your employees' wellness