The Benefex Winter Forum is fast-approaching, and we’re so excited to have David Beeney join us to give a talk on mental health in the workplace.

David enjoyed a successful career in media for 36 years but suffered in complete silence with his mental health issue until May of last year when he ‘outed’ himself. He always wanted to work in magazines and newspapers, and despite hiding his ‘anxiety disorder’, by the age of 35 he had secured his goal of becoming the MD of a daily regional newspaper. David spent the last 13 years of his media career at Auto Trader as one of their Commercial Directors and only left in September 2016.

Alongside his media career, he started training as a mental health counsellor eight years ago and has been qualified for the past three years. He counsels for the charity Mind on a voluntary basis.

David, you founded Breaking the Silence to promote mental health awareness in the workplace and to create stigma free environments that are all-inclusive. Tell us a bit more about the work that you do?

When I created Breaking the Silence I was initially just sharing my mental health story. Although I was getting good feedback and inspiring some people to break their silence I quickly realised that it was not going to change culture or management behaviour. I have sat with numerous HR teams and discussed what would be the best process to follow if we were to make a real difference to the culture around employee wellbeing. All of these teams were at different stages of their wellbeing journey but the majority were in their infancy and had been focussed more on physical wellbeing, nutrition etc. I now help Boardrooms to link wellbeing with employee engagement and productivity. Consequently, my mental health workshops are also seen as sessions that drive energy and improve management effectiveness

As an employer, it’s difficult to know when to intervene when we think an employee is suffering, or if there is even an issue present. Obviously, the symptoms are varied, but are there any common symptoms of poor mental health that an employer can look out for? And how can we go about intervening sensitively?

Employers are naturally nervous to intervene when they think an employee might be suffering and often opt to saying nothing at all rather than risk getting it wrong. The key to getting this right is the language that you choose to use. For example, if you say to somebody you are concerned about their mental health, they will find it far too invasive and are very unlikely to share with you how they are truly feeling. However, if you say to them that you have noticed recently a dip in their energy levels they will probably give you a full and honest response. Your energy levels are closely linked to your emotional wellbeing, and a change in them is a common symptom of poor mental health. Energy levels do not just go down, as some sufferers will become more manic during periods of poor mental health. 

We talk a lot about preventing poor mental health, but how do we go about helping someone who is recovering to ensure they don’t relapse?

We need to get better at treating people recovering from poor mental health in the same way we would treat someone recovering from poor physical health. If someone was recovering following a hip replacement we would regularly ask them how they were feeling and also check if there was any additional support they needed in the workplace. With mental health we don’t tend to ask them anything, believing that they would rather we said nothing for fear of embarrassing them.

Generally people suffering with poor mental health do not like themselves sufficiently, and behave in a manner that they believe will please others rather than be their ‘true self’. Consequently, helping an employee to feel good about themselves will aid their recovery and reduce the chances of a relapse.

What kinds of tools can employers use to ensure they’re doing their best for their employees who are suffering from mental health issues?

Most employers these days have an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) which offers an employee free access to counselling. However, in many cases employees seem reluctant to use them, and employers are revisiting how they can encourage greater usage and trust in these services. One of my clients has recently rewritten all of their wellbeing material and relaunched their EAP services on their intranet. This includes a recommended approach to somebody who you feel may need help, ensuring that they are both sensitive and signposting the right professional service to support them.

I am also looking at partnering with a software business that provide apps to all employees to measure their mental wellbeing. This provides data to the employer to gauge the overall mental health of their workforce. 

You work with a lot of awesome companies; can you give us some examples of people who have a great approach to preventing, treating, and tackling poor mental health at work?

The employers who are making the biggest difference to eradicating stigma in the workplace are those who have realised the importance of setting the tone from the very top of their organisation. In the last few months, four CEOs have attended my workshops and shared to their employees how mental health has touched their own lives. The impact has been considerable and their openness made it instantly easier for other employees to then talk about their own mental health.

Other companies making big strides are those who have realised that the key to creating a healthier team is to improve the quality of their people management. If your line manager regularly asks how you are and listens non-judgementally, you are far less likely to suffer poor mental health at work. This seems far more important to treating and tackling employee wellbeing than sending a handful of employees on a mental health first aid course.

Some of my clients leading the way in these areas include TUI, HSBC, Virgin Media, IOM Government, ABM, Luton Community Housing, Basingstoke District Council and DQ Advocates.

David will be speaking at our Client Winter Forum in February. If you'd like to find out more about what David does, please visit his website: