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Leadership Can be a Lonely Place

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Written by:

Robert Lloyd Griffiths
Director
IOD Wales


Carwyn Jones’ candid openness about his own personal struggles with mental health during last week’s Wales Business Review podcast on mental health and wellbeing would have struck a chord with many of us.

Of course, we all know about the importance of health and wellbeing in the workplace, and rightly so, but it isn’t often that we stop to think or talk about how lonely it can be in a leadership position. As a high profile leader and as a man, Carwyn’s own story is a powerful reminder that we need to be more open about our own mental health struggles as leaders.

Mental Health Day on Saturday was an opportunity for us all to reflect on the importance of health and wellbeing. The devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic means that we now need short term action and long term planning to put the nation’s mental health at the heart of our Covid-19 recovery plan.

Research illustrates how the pandemic has already inflicted a heavy toll on the nation’s mental health, with a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable in society. Nearly eighty percent of people living with mental illness have reported that their mental health deteriorated as a result of the crisis, almost half of the UK population have experienced high levels of anxiety and Samaritans have provided emotional support more than 7,000 times a day.

The impact of months of social isolation, soaring levels of anxiety and the acute distress of bereavement has exacerbated existing health inequalities and is expected to be compounded by significant financial insecurity faced by households across the country, with an estimated half a million more people expected to experience mental health problems as a result of the economic impact of Covid-19.

Business leaders have so many issues to juggle. Homes are on the line, livelihoods are being torn apart and jobs are being lost. These are huge pressures on the working economy and it’s a frightening prospect. We all need to talk and have a shoulder to lean on but many of us as leaders are in a lonely place.

The reality is that there are a lot of people that are battling to save their businesses at the moment. As a business owner, you can feel like you’re on your own as you try to save jobs and stay afloat. Natalie Isaac of Bar 44 spoke with real passion in the media last week as she talked about the anxiety that she is experiencing not knowing if their once highly successful business will survive the lockdown restrictions. My heart goes out to Natalie and the thousands like her in the hospitality sector that are facing the same struggles.

The cost of mental health to business is huge so there is a commercial imperative to look after each other and help those around us. Mental health costs Wales around £7 billion each year. Welsh Government’s appointment of Eluned Morgan MS as the Minister responsible for mental health services, dementia, autism, substance misuse, veterans' health, patient experience and Wales' obesity strategy is a bold and welcome move as a mental health crisis threatens to impact us all.

The harsh reality is that without healthy people we have no economy. We have to build resilience and support in our working lives. We need to lead by example.

Covid-19 has highlighted the impact of isolation on people's mental health, and we need to stand by individuals who are suffering in these difficult times. Please don’t be lonely and please don’t forget that it is ok to ask for help. As the Institute for Directors in Wales, we’re here to help you.

Together we are stronger.