My mental health experiences have completely changed the way I approach working life. A year ago I decided to temporarily step down from my position as colleague services and business management director at Lloyds Banking Group. I had been struggling with depression and anxiety and couldn't see the situation improving unless I took some time to focus on getting better.
During this time I was also diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. Some would see these episodes as setbacks, and in many ways they are. But they have also been huge learning opportunities for me, transforming the way I interact with both my employer and my colleagues.
A key example of this is my relationship with Lloyds Banking Group. I used to see employment as a one-sided service contract, but I now see it as a collaboration between equal partners. This shift has come as a result of the support and time I received from the group. I know now that it wants me to perform at my best and feel healthy. Understanding that this is a shared goal and that I can take as well as give has been a huge help in managing my condition.
Being aware of my triggers means I've put a number of measures in place to ensure I strike the right balance between looking after my mental health and being the best colleague I can. For instance, one side-effect of my medication is short-term memory problems, and sentences can come out muddled if I’m tired or stressed.
I’ve discovered that concentrating on one thing at a time enables me to perform at my best. One way I manage this is allowing five to 10 minutes between each meeting to review my daily plan and refocus. Where possible I try not to rush inbetween appointments or check my phone during meetings so I can stay focused and avoid overload.
I also know that if I'm not feeling well it's best to address the problem head-on. This is usually as simple as taking some time out and rescheduling, allowing me to reset and return to work refreshed either later that day or the next. I’m lucky to work in an environment where I can be open and honest with my colleagues, and they understand that occasionally these things happen. The support I received from the group was crucial in my recovery.
Everyone is different, and what works for me isn’t necessarily appropriate for someone else with the same condition. I’m grateful to have been given the space to explore this, but I know that others aren’t so lucky. As a line manager myself, my own experiences have made me aware that you can’t always tell when someone is struggling. So I try to be as open and approachable as I can.
Mental health has long been a big taboo in the workplace, but it doesn’t have to be. Training is essential to demystify mental health and ensure line managers are well-equipped to handle whatever might come their way. It’s something that businesses from the smallest to the largest can implement.
Lloyds Banking Group supports this with a set of broader initiatives, including dedicated intranet pages and a support number for all colleagues, as well as an ‘Access Network’ that connects staff with mental health problems or disabilities through newsletters, events and mentoring schemes. But most important is the group's inclusive culture.
Every organisation should strive to foster an inclusive environment. Sometimes that involves the business being flexible and making accommodations, or individuals taking the time to listen to colleagues. No organisation is perfect, but keeping lines of communication open is a good start.
Jon Howcroft Stemp is business management director at Lloyds Banking Group