Workplace Mental Health: How to Build a Culture of Mental Fitness in Your Organisation


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Workplace mental health is a more widely discussed concept than ever thanks to the pandemic and how it has changed global attitude towards work. Not only are leaders and teams taking wellbeing more seriously – there is also a shift to a more proactive approach to mental health. We call that approach 'mental fitness', and making it a part of company culture is all about focussing on the 'inner game'. That means: teaching and fostering mental resilience in every staff member so that they can thrive amidst the challenges of an ever-changing workplace. This is even harder than it sounds, because it requires nurturing something that can't be seen.

Workplace Mental Health: Breaking the Taboo

The workplace is no exception to the taboo on talking about mental health. Historically, workplace mental health has suffered because of this. However, some leaders are breaking this taboo one conversation at a time.

Geoff McDonald is such a leader. A keynote speaker, business transformation advisor, and former Global VP of Human Resources for Unilever, Geoff is a long-time mental health campaigner.  He spoke with Symbia MD Jodie Rogers on The Hidden Edge of Team Performance podcast episode 6 about ending the stigma of mental ill health in the workplace. As Geoff points out, mental health is a 'damaged brand' and if we want to remove the stigma surrounding depression, anxiety, and mental health from the workplace, we need to repair that brand by replacing it with a more aspirational, inspiring model.

How do we go about that? We start by shifting away from 'curing' mental ill health towards strengthening and enhancing mental health  – a proactive rather than a reactive approach. In this article, we'll explore how we can cultivate mental fitness in and outside of the workplace.

Breaking the stigma of mental ill health with Geoff McDonald podcast episode

Embracing a Mental Fitness Model of Workplace Health

Know this about mental fitness: it's not a taboo topic. While leaders may not like trying to work with someone who may be struggling mentally or emotionally. Some leaders may have this fear that working on mental fitness is a sensitive subject, and worry they might expose themselves or their staff to judgement from others, but that is not the case.

The beauty of mental fitness is that it's focused on positives: strengthening and enhancing people. It's about learning to think critically about your thought processes, to take a step back and see the big picture. Mental fitness is also about recognising emotions and understanding how they shape your reality. By cultivating an awareness of your 'inner game', you improve that game. As you do so, you grasp its profound impact on your work.

How to Empower Mental Fitness in Your Organisation

Once you understand the 'inner game', you are much more able to give productive feedback and engage in conversations around emotional wellbeing. To create a culture of mental fitness, you have to talk about your insecurities, about how you feel leading a team or overseeing a product launch. How confident are you in your ability? Opening up about your internal world encourages others in the organisation to also speak up about their mental fitness. They can either be empowered to own and manage their mental fitness, or disempowered and held back by their own beliefs.

A 'pro tip' for strengthening your mental fitness: be aware that you have inner resources that can give you an edge in business and life. Knowing these tools are there and keeping them handy and in top condition when you need them can be a competitive advantage. You can't leverage this strength by ignoring it. Instead, you should embrace it. That means create a safe space to talk openly about mental fitness matters in the workplace.

It's Up to Leaders to Lead the Charge

All change starts at the top. As a leader, you must not shrink from showing your vulnerabilities. The more comfortable you are admitting your weaknesses, the better your team will see your strengths – and willingly follow you.

To create a culture of mental fitness, you have to make these conversations a part of your process. How to do this? Embed the human element in your systems. SWOT analyses are a great way to plan projects, but make sure these plans don't omit the human element. A simple way to do this is to ask your team to openly address any doubts they have.

Ask these questions:

  • What emotional risks does this project bring?
  • What limiting beliefs could block the project's success?

When you have a conversation like this, your limitations become more tangible and you are better able to work on them. You can apply this tactic for post-launch evaluations as well. Take the human element of a project's outcome into account. Moving too slow might be a sign not just of bottlenecks, but also of stakeholders' risk aversion. That could have caused a lag in decision-making.

See how it works? Building a culture of mental fitness begins with talking about these topics and including them in how we speak, think, and do business.

Get out of your own way

You might worry that if you ask people about their mental fitness, they will feel uncomfortable. That's not reality – just your fears. Which would you prefer: to invite someone to address the emotional elephant in the room, or to let that person spiral into depression, anxiety and burnout?

Creating a culture of mental fitness in your organization isn't about fixing people. It's about tuning into them and enabling them to speak up if all is not well with them. So stop getting in your own way, and start normalising mental health. Your conversations around thoughts and feelings will eventually become conversations about how much more successful the company has become – because your people will be operating at the top of their game.

Learn more about Geoff McDonald's empowerment of organisations to put purpose at their cores and embrace mental health issues:

Want to learn more about how Symbia supports employee well-being and helps leaders and teams to harness their inner game for competitive advantage? Email us at

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