My Whole Self Day: supporting the mental health of the nation

Simon Blake, chief executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, calls on organisations to empower people to bring their ‘whole self’ to work

This March, at MHFA England, we are launching a new campaign for workplace culture change – My Whole Self. It is all about strengthening human connections in the workplace by bringing together diversity and inclusion and health and wellbeing.

Workplaces across the country are joining us online today – the first My Whole Self Day – to encourage people to build deeper connections with colleagues at a time when millions of people move towards remote working.

As the current health crisis sees more people working from home than ever before, our campaign will focus on providing guidance designed to support employees feeling the impact of the coronavirus.

Human connections are so important at this time. And we know that nurturing them virtually will be key to supporting the nation’s mental health and wellbeing as we come together to tackle the impact of coronavirus. That’s why today we’ve launched new guidance on mentally healthy working from home.

Being our authentic selves

My Whole Self is also about encouraging people to feel empowered to be their authentic self, wherever they work. When we’re empowered to be our ‘whole self’ at work we can build more meaningful connections. This helps us to be more understanding of our colleagues, so we work better together.

Being our authentic self means that we don’t leave parts of our identity – be that our cultural or ethnic background, gender identity, sexuality, or health – at the door when we start work. But the reality is that people right across the country are going to work, hiding parts of themselves for fear of discrimination, judgement, bullying, or harm.

Too many people, including women and people of colour, feel unheard and unseen with their ideas, and their successes are too often credited to others.

Campaigning for culture change

My Whole Self invites us to turn the tide on this, to find common ground, connect with each other’s understanding of the world, and create workplaces where everyone has the freedom and the choice to bring their whole self to work.

This culture change can have a huge impact. When we have work with meaning and are able to be our whole self, it powers both our performance and our wellbeing, which is good for organisations, for individuals and for communities.

Diversity and authenticity are strengths, and when leveraged through psychologically safe working, everyone wins. Indeed, Google’s landmark study, Project Aristotle, suggests that psychological safety is a key part of every successful team.

Bringing my whole self to work

When I was much younger, I worried about discussing my sexuality at work, even though I had come out to many of my friends. I worried what colleagues would think if they knew I was gay, and with hindsight, my brain was clearly in self-protection mode.

Over 25 years on, it is obvious that I was never going to be able to do my best work or be truly happy at work unless people knew me. Coming out meant I was no longer distracted with concerns about how I expressed my ideas, or whether I would be ‘caught’.

As I know from experience, when we hide parts of ourselves, or are afraid to be who we really are, our minds are focused on protection rather than excellence and innovation. Bringing our whole self to work moves us out of out of this defensive zone, and into a space where we are empowered to build healthy relationships, excel, innovate, and lead well – all of which impacts positively on our sense of belonging and wellbeing.

There has been a lot of progress since I started work as a gay man in the 1990s, but the massive gap between legislation, rhetoric and reality remains. This refreshed conversation is part of shifting the dial – it’s a conversation where mental health and wellbeing and equity and belonging are understood as two sides of the same coin.

Join the campaign

As leaders, it is our responsibility to set an example in both being our authentic, whole self at work and being more understanding of those we work with. Whether online or offline, bringing your whole self to work is a mindset that is better for wellbeing and better for our communities.

So, join us as we call on organisations across the country to build deeper connections with colleagues. Take part by sharing your whole self in a My Whole Selfie today and join the conversation online using #MyWholeSelf.

As for me, I am Chief Executive of MHFA England. I am a civil partner and husband, Cornish, proudly internationalist, a horse rider and a dog lover. And I am lucky enough to bring all of this to my work.

You can find out more about the campaign and how to get involved at mhfaengland.org/my-whole-self.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

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