60-second interview with Mental Health Expert, Dr Barbara Mariposa

““By everyone taking responsibility for creating a culture of trust, openness and respect you generate engagement, energy and passion.”

How much responsibility should Corporate leaders have for the wellbeing of their workforce?

First, let’s turn it on its head. What happens if corporate leaders do not pay attention to the wellbeing of their work force? Why would they not want to have healthy, happy, energised people committed to producing great results because they feel motivated and inspired by what their company is aiming to do? It simply doesn’t add up. And sadly, it’s only now that the costs to the economy and to business are being calculated that people in positions of power are waking up and saying “we’ve got to do something about this”. Right move, wrong reasons!

Second, what does the word responsibility mean? Some people mutter about “paternalism” and “big brother” mentality with HR measuring behaviour and attitudes in ways that they hope will tell them about what is going on “on the shop floor”. The very fact they have to do that points to the kind of disconnect that is damaging wellbeing. Them and Us. Responsibility needs trust. “I trust you to be 100% responsible for making this work to everybody’s best advantage. You trust me to do the same.” Responsibility is not a pie that can be divided up. You do 50% and I’ll put in 50% too. There is no commitment in that. There is the possibility of blame, mistrust, manipulation. People need to know that their leaders have their best interests at heart. And each person needs to take full responsibility for their own wellbeing too. Speak out if you have too much work on your plate, if you’re being bullied. Act at all times with respect and dignity and be sure that you are not inadvertently damaging someone else. By everyone taking responsibility for creating a culture of trust, openness and respect you generate engagement, energy and passion. No amount of measuring will do this, but it might destroy it.

Forward thinking companies are moving away from a culture where they are trying to find and measure the monetary value of everything and instead are seeing another kind of value in looking after their employees. This itself represents the new era and it might seem like a leap of faith to begin with but organisations that put the wellbeing of their employees first do reap the benefits in the long term. No amount of fruit and yoga classes will undo the damage done by poor managerial and social skills, the interpersonal hurt that erodes trust, passion, self-confidence and engagement.

Have you seen the impact of mental illness during your professional life?

Yes. I myself crashed and burned badly several years ago and felt the full force of stigma, discrimination and prejudice and how that adds to and shapes one’s personal distress. And this was within the medical profession, which some people may find a little surprising. That’s part of the reason that I am so committed to providing as many people as possible with the skills and tools to be well and to flourish. These are things that we can learn.

A big piece of the wellbeing agenda which gets missed when we see it as a matter that each individual must deal with, is recognising the profound and powerful impact of the social and emotional climate at work. This goes back to the first question. We need to put people at the heart of business. The cost of not doing so is huge. As the government sponsored Stevenson-Farmer report, published last October, documents, the cost to business of mental distress is between £33 and £42 billion whilst the ROI of face to face, universal educational wellbeing interventions is around £10 per £1. Stress and distress are a handicap to profit and productivity.

Many people who attend the courses and workshops I run relate stories about how they are being treated at work that make my blood run cold. And then leaders wonder what is wrong with these “flaky weak” people. Wrong. There are some basic principles of human interaction that run through all cultures and times. A business culture that is human-centred not just as a mission statement but as a lived, realtime experience is not just some nice idea – it’s an imperative. Work fatigue and mental-emotional distress are not an individual’s failing, they are systems failures.

How can we prepare the next generation for the workplace of the future?

The world is changing at such a rapid rate that any answers we may come up with today will probably be obsolete in ten years time. We only need to look back ten years to when the iPhone was just born to realise this. As such we must empower and listen to the rising stars and innovators of the next generation and see what they are doing because they are the ones who will be most in touch with and most able to respond to these changes. Implicit in this is that the majority of large companies need to wake up and realise that the way they are doing things is still rooted in 20th century models when we are, already, nearly in the third decade of the 21st century. The financial crisis of 2007/8 revealed many flaws in the economic systems and business models which show that hierarchical inflexible structures with increasing power towards the top are inherently unstable. The skills needed now, not just into the future, must build on empowering leadership capability in each person to work in networks of inter-dependent teams, to use their best judgement at all times. The soft skills at the cutting edge of good business include collaboration, creativity, adaptability, social and emotional intelligence – self-awareness, self-confidence and self-determination. If you’re not changing you’re falling behind. Know what you’re good at, what you love doing, be trustworthy, and take responsibility for the quality of your own life.

PS good governance is invisible.


About Dr Barbara Mariposa


Dr Barbara Mariposa is a medical doctor with a background in psychiatry and a thought leader in the field of workplace wellbeing. Barbara has authored 3 books and now works with organisations, focusing on mental wellbeing in the workplace.

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