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Investing in Employees’ Mental Health is Crucial


Ann Ystén - CEO and managing partner of Perfect Fools - speaks to LBB’s Alex Reeves in association with Adobe about how employers in the creative industries should take more responsibility for their workers’ mental health

Investing in Employees’ Mental Health is Crucial
Adobe XD is a proud supporter of LBB. Over the upcoming months, as part of the sponsorship of the 5 Minutes with content channel, we will be spending time with some of the most innovative and creative minds in the industry. 

In this conversation we speak to Ann Ystén, CEO and managing partner of Perfect Fools, about how managers and HR departments in the creative industry often neglect the mental health of employees and what they can do to build a more mentally healthy working environment.

LBB> Where did your interest in supporting people in their mental health begin?

Ann>I grew up with mental health problems in my family and saw first-hand what that can do to an otherwise amazing individual. I also experienced the stigmas and taboos surrounding these questions. As I started working on my own mental capacity, I realised that with the right training and encouragement we can achieve so much more that we think. We are so very often our worst critic and I want to emphasise that we are talking about mental health, not illness. That’s a very different topic. As with physical health it is something that can be improved and strengthened.

LBB> What would you say are the most pressing mental health challenges for people in the creative and marketing industries?

Ann> Our industry is stressful, and we all have a lot of high performing people, but their average age is usually quite low. Even though, as managers, we seem to put our HR priorities into gym cards and ergonomics. But what do our employees really struggle with? Throughout life, life happens. With its ups and downs. And everyday life is often filled with performance anxiety, stress and self-medication. As we spend a fortune on building our bodies every year, often sponsored by an employer, we do not invest in our minds - how we deal with the challenges we meet both inside and outside of the work-place.

LBB> This might seem obvious, but as a business leader, why is it important for you to ensure that the people who work for you have good mental health?

Ann> If empathy is not enough for everyone; there are high costs connected to resource turnover. An employee on sick-leave or leaving the company is a very high cost. There are also statistics that show a strong correlation between employer satisfaction and client satisfaction. Also, in 2016 Google set out to find out how to build the perfect team. They called it Project Aristotle . And to my great joy they found that psychological safety - how comfortable you feel taking risks in the team without feeling insecure or embarrassed - was the most important factor in innovative and creative teams to reach and overdeliver on targets. They also identified four more areas like dependability, structure, meaningful work etc. but none of them mattered if psychological safety was not in place. If that is not a relevant argument to invest in mental health, I don’t know what is.

LBB> What do you think are the most effective ways to ensure you are protecting your employees’ mental health?

Ann> Include mental health questions in your employee survey if not only to create a reason to start talking about it. Share your own experiences. Mental health is often taboo and if you open up others will too.

Listen. If people have the courage to bring up that they feel lousy they definitely do.
Also work on your company’s ethos/attitude/culture. People are not problems. They are your only asset, and it is your responsibility to make sure they thrive.

Provide cost-free external anonymous therapy. You are not qualified to deal with all issues, but you are qualified and obligated to provide a service that can.

LBB> Are there any factors that are particularly specific to the advertising industry that you think affect the mental health of those who work in it?

Ann> Deadlines are a given answer but I also believe that the best creatives really put their heart and soul into their work. And then they are getting judged by it every week. That should be respected. To have debriefs after tough client meetings and having the time to process lost pitches etc. is usually appreciated.

LBB> What sort of support have you found is most helpful for employers to provide?

Ann> We have a cost-free anonymous psychology service available for all employees. Just by having that creates a higher degree of psychological safety at the agency. Also, we have “life happens days” where employees can take a couple of days off should there be a personal crisis with full pay. Just showing that we, as employers, have our employee’s backs is probably more important than anything else. 


LBB> The last time we spoke, you mentioned the importance of benevolence in business. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how businesses can build that into what they do.

Ann> I believe we shy away from challenging conversations. Afraid what the answer might be, afraid of doing or saying something wrong and get a negative reaction.  My experience is that if you truly wish the individual well it shows. I love the word “benevolence” – desire to do good for others – and use that idea in my leadership. If that desire is genuine the response will be sincere and you will be able to help, just by listening. We are not counsellors, but we can provide and suggest a next step. And if you introduce that mentality in your company you will soon see that it will reflect on your clients as well. In an environment where people feel safe, the clients also feel the need to add value rather than criticise and they also make braver decisions. Feeling the safety and support of the team.

LBB> Personally, what do you do to maintain good mental health in your life?

Ann> I spent many years mentally working out through psychotherapy but nowadays primarily through yoga and good food in good company.

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Adobe, Tue, 16 Feb 2021 12:01:09 GMT