In a dark theatre, the lights danced and the DJ cranked the music to spur the teams on as they pushed themselves to the limit on their stationary bikes. They were aiming to climb as far as possible up the infamous Mont Ventoux that was shown on the iPad in front of them. Sweat dripped as the fans could no longer keep up with the heat they generated.

All of this was in support of smashing the stigma of mental health, in particular men’s mental health. The day was run by MindCycle, the brainchild of Rob Stephenson who also founded and runs Inside Out, an organization that encourages senior leaders to be open about their mental health in order to normalize the topic in the workplace. This particular event was a competition between teams from various corporations in London who had also participated in organizational coaching with Track Record.

While there was a lot of talk during the day about mental health, what I saw was a series of teams who actively demonstrated support of their teammates in ways that set a real example of what a positive and open workplace culture looks like. What happens when you do “smash the stigma”? What comes next?

What comes next is this… A man so exhausted he can hardly get off the bike doesn’t collapse on the floor but instead goes to the back of the bike and makes sure the saddle height is right for his teammate who is taking over from him. A colleague holding the fan right in front of a rider’s face because it’s not cooling her enough from floor height. A professional cyclist spending the entire day helping out after doing an entire team’s riding on his own. Hands on backs, water bottles filled and brought to the riders, people checking in on each other, and perhaps most importantly, people saying when they had pushed themselves to their limit and needed to stop. The courage to say how you’re really feeling and ask for help if or when you need it is what this is all about.

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Imagine going to work with a group of people who you know are willing to push themselves for each other and also be open about their limits. What would that look like put into a corporate context? Someone snaps at you in a meeting, and instead of getting defensive you ask with genuine concern “Are you alright?” A colleague has a parent in the hospital, and the group they’re working on a project with work together to redistribute the tasks so they can go focus on family. Your teammate who’s been off work with depression is gently and gradually reintegrated into the workflow, and they feel comfortable telling you day to day how they’re really doing.

This sounds like the type of workplace in which most people would thrive. People pushing themselves as hard as they can because they are encouraged to do so and know that they have the full support of their colleagues and managers. Part of the stigma of companies being more understanding of mental health is that they’ll become “soft”, but of course this is just as false as the belief that being understanding of people having the flu are “soft”. We take our physical selves and our mental selves to work every day, and both need to be healthy.

Back to the “what comes next”… Does a company with this type of positive culture have a lower incidence of staff taking stress leave? Does it have lower turnover? Does it keep staff who have built up a history of expertise specific to their role that they bring to the clients? Do new staff learn their roles more quickly with the support of their colleagues? Do the managers spend less time fighting fires amongst their staff and more time ensuring work is on target? Are staff more able to be creative and innovative? These are all possibilities. It’s worth #smashingthestigma to find out.

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