We have had the pleasure of recording our c-suite podcast at Mad World on three occasions (listen to those previous shows here) but this year were unable to make it due to other commitments on the day. However, we still managed to send someone along in our place to report back on the event.

Suzette Shahmoon is a researcher, therapist, international speaker and storyteller. She also happens to be one of our newest clients and we’re currently in the planning stage to launch her new podcast (more on that soon).

We therefore sent Suzette along to Mad World last week – here’s her report …

Do you talk to yourself? Come on, I know it isn’t just me. You can be honest. We all do it you know. Science has proven that we all spend our days narrating our lives in our heads and that’s normal. 

When we wake up in the morning we tell ourselves what we are going to do today. When we look in the mirror we either tell ourselves what a good hair day or bad face day it is and when we aren’t narrating our reality we are sharing our stories with others: Why we are late to work, who we met on the commute and why we need to invest in this resource.

Stories help us to make sense of our reality by giving it form and structure. Stories help us to understand context, motivations and they help us to define our roles in society. So why do we focus so heavily on facts and figures in the corporate world when we are faced with issues such as employee attrition or absence?

I attended the Mad World summit for the first time this week and it was wonderful to see such a large gathering of people share knowledge based on the fundamental understanding that if we are to improve productivity we shouldn’t look at our employees as just a resource. We need to look at our employees as human beings, welcoming the complexity that comes with human experience and we do that by being aware of the narratives that play out in people’s lives.

The summit hosted a melting pot of minds from corporate and wellbeing backgrounds and together they sat on stage, in the audience or around tables and they shared their stories about supporting or improving well-being in the workplace. Some stories were deeply personal, others less so, but in each session that I attended the necessity to focus on storytelling became more and more prominent in the conversation.

Geoff McDonald of Minds at Work hit the nail on the head during his discussion on embedding mental health and well-being into organisational strategy. Data can display employee attrition and employee absence but it won’t tell you the why? Why did Johnny quit and why is Liza always late? It is only when we listen to why employees aren’t turning up for work or why they aren’t engaging at work that we can create strategies to support them.

In a fantastic conversation between Petra Velzeboer, a psychotherapist and TEDx speaker and Theodora Chatzisarros, of Amazon, these two women spoke about the importance of understanding individual experience. Collaboratively they described how we are all emotional patchworks. The fabric of our lives comes from our past experiences, our cultural identity and family systems. We come to work and bring all of these pieces with us. As a result a throwaway comment in a meeting can trigger a hidden belief or an imposed value that can affect our performance. Chatzisarros gave herself as an example. She described her own internal battles with speaking up in group settings and related it back to her past experience. She described how this impacted on her performance at work and how becoming aware of her past experiences and how they affected her in the workplace enabled her to overcome her fears and excel. Together these two speakers came to the realisation that part of supporting mental health in the workplace is about giving individuals the tools to recognise their own individual thoughts and patterns of behaviour. 

This was echoed in so many other sessions. Dr Nick Taylor, a clinical psychologist, and Co-Founder & CEO of Unmind, reiterated what I had just heard, through his description of the biopsychosocial model of behaviour. He concurred that we are all susceptible to the constant ebb and flow of our emotions and these are triggered by our physical, emotional and emotional states as well as the social contexts in which we live.

So, with this in mind, how do employers support their workforce if everyone is so unique? A question that many panelists aimed to answer. Sir Ian Cheshire of Channel 4 spoke about managers valuing their staff as individuals. He explained that there will never be a one size fits all approach to supporting wellbeing because everyone is different.  So we all need to be mindful of what works, what doesn’t work while remaining flexible in our approaches and strategies. He also reminded us that for as much as we are all individuals we all share common traits. Dr Heather Melville OBE CMMI of Teneo people advisory added to this when she spoke about intersectionality. She wisely stated, don’t just celebrate a person’s ethnicity at a targeted time, like Black History Month or Chinese New Year, make them feel valued for who they are all year round. The work of the two psychologists Mike Steger and Todd Kashdan has taught us that wellbeing improves when we feel like we belong. Melville drove home how important it is to embed this into workplace culture. Javier Echave, CFO of Heathrow airport stated, the key is making sure everyone is ok being themselves at work.

So finally we turn to roles and responsibilities. It’s all very well saying that the key to having an emotionally supported workforce is by recognising their individuality and helping them to feel like they belong while they manage their struggles through life, but how does that occur? There seemed to be a general consensus that there always has to be some level of personal responsibility when it comes to seeking help, advice, support and resources. This can be enabled by employers creating an environment where people feel safe being themselves. Larger organisations can invest in programs that can educate their workforce with regards to self awareness and wellbeing strategies, whereas smaller workplaces may only be able to offer an empathic ear, some kind advice and a leave of absence if necessary. 

The key take away of the summit for me is that we are all human beings and we all feel a multitude of emotions throughout our daily life. When we share elements of our life and how they are making us feel with others, we often become aware that we are not alone in our struggles.