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2021 Must Be The Year Every Business Takes Action 

Poppy Jaman, OBE, CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance.

Poppy Jaman OBE is CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance, a community of businesses leading the way on building mentally healthy workplaces. Poppy says the past year has been a catalyst for urgent long term change, putting mental health on the boardroom agenda and guiding business leaders to support the mental health of their people.

It has taken a global pandemic to finally put mental health on the Boardroom agenda of almost every company. And for the good of people, business, wider society, it has to remain there to help the recovery of our people, our community and our economy.


At the CMHA, we understand that every business must play its part to protect, support and create positive mental health for their people. And we have seen that play out over the last year, with business leaders championing open conversations and promoting mental health initiatives – such as counsellors and wellbeing support. In the first UK lockdown, 9% of people said they accessed mental health and wellbeing support at work. This is hugely encouraging as it indicates trust. It increases the potential to catch people early in their health journey and provide early intervention support, decreasing the burden on the NHS. The CMHA is motivated to facilitate more businesses to continue to build on this opportunity created by the tragedy of the pandemic. It is the right thing to do.


It is also the business-critical thing to do. There is no shame in saying that what is good for your people is also good for the bottom line. Business leaders must apply their business acumen to this problem as they would any other threat to their business. If there was an IT problem costing businesses billions every month and impacting on productivity, you would fix it. Businesses also risk losing out on talent – a CMHA survey of 500 early careers job seekers found 91% are more likely to apply to an employer that is committed to supporting employees’ mental health.


There can be no question that businesses must act.

“There is no shame in saying that what is good for your people is also good for the bottom line.” 

But what does action look like? CMHA members have been leading on this for over a decade, and we have captured lessons learnt. The first step is to challenge mental health stigma, which sadly, still exists. But this can change quickly if Board level executives lead the conversation. During the pandemic I saw leaders become more open about their own struggles and how they are looking after their own wellbeing. Leadership vulnerability matters. It gives permission and signals that this business cares, that message is internalised and absorbed into the culture creating a safe space for all to share what is going on for themselves and seek support as well as notice peers and offer support. Leaders' role modelling behaviour is crucial for change.

Responsible businesses are ensuring their people are skilled with a general level of mental health literacy and most importantly on how to have a conversation. Then build a workplace mental health and wellbeing strategy. But be careful to avoid tokenism.


A business which talks loudly about supporting mental health, but puts no strategy or resources behind it, risk their reputation externally and diminished trust with employees. I think build a strategy slowly and thoughtfully, it takes time to get this right but the payoff is huge. Young people are seeking out businesses that score high on this agenda we know this from our research and thriving at work reviews. Businesses must track, measure and report on wellbeing, in the same way organisations are increasingly holding themselves to account – or being held to account – on issues such as sustainability and equality.


When businesses create an environment where employees look forward to doing their job because it has the right level of challenge and the right level of wellbeing support, they create positive mental health of their workforce and in turn contribute to societal wellbeing.

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