There’s a mental health crisis in the UK right now.
According to an NHS report in August, one in three sick notes handed out by GPs are for mental health and behavioural issues. The number of notes specifically for anxiety and stress were up 14%.
This will probably feel familiar to anyone who has ever worked in a startup, where job roles can be undefined, and there’s huge pressure to “keep shipping.” Startups often do not have a fully fledged HR department to listen to complaints or the systems in place to prevent burnout.
One person with direct experience is James Routledge, an entrepreneur who cofounded social network Matchchat in 2012, then suffered anxiety and stress when the company was wound up. “Life was basically a pitch,” he told Business Insider.
After writing publicly about his experiences, and getting huge amounts of feedback, Routledge founded Sanctus last May to try to help startups and corporates look after employees’ mental health. Sanctus sends mental health coaches into firms to offer employees one-to-one listening sessions at work, and runs mental health workshops for companies.
Several high-profile British startups have signed up, offering the coaching sessions alongside routine benefits like stock options and pensions advice.
They include fintech firm TransferWise, identity checking startup Onfido, and car sales platform Carwow.
Onfido told Business Insider it had 87 employees attending Sanctus mental health sessions, more than half its total staff count.
“The stats suggest mental health in the UK is getting worse, and not better,” said Harry Richardson, Onfido’s HR manager, “It’s incumbent on us as a company to take steps to address that. I think that’s the moral and right thing to do.”
Chief executive Husayn Kassai added that he and his cofounders had left jobs at investment bank Merrill Lynch precisely because “we weren’t in a position to contribute or be creative.” He added that Onfido sees mental health care provision as part of its wider duty of care.
TransferWise’s head of people and environment, Rachel Lloyd, said mental health was still seen as “taboo.”
“The Sanctus sessions have enabled us to make mental wellbeing a natural part of life at work,” she said. “They are held in our London office and the team talk openly about attending them. It’s a great feeling to know we’re making positive headway combating the stigma of talking about mental health.”
US startups have been quicker than their UK counterparts to acknowledge the importance of mental health at work.
The idea of “bringing your whole self to work” has been around in the US since 2015. And in July this year, the chief executive of chat app Olark, Ben Congleton, went viral when he praised an employee for taking a “mental health day” as sick leave.
Routledge wants to make such tenets more normal here, so employees don’t suffer in silence. That’s informed Sanctus’ new mental health pledge, which companies can sign up to as an opener to a wider internal discussion on mental health. It coincides with Mental Illness Awareness Week.
The pledge is backed by corporates like Red Bull as well as startups and states: “We pledge to create an open environment where mental health is supported, and people can bring their full selves to work.”
There are ten points on the pledge, including treating mental health days as the same as physical sick days.
If you’re a founder or startup who has made changes to your business as a result of mental health considerations, get in touch: [email protected]