With World Mental Health Day coming up on Saturday 10 October, we revisit David Plans’ insights into male mental health in corporate culture.

Corporate culture and practice have gone through significant change over the years.

From the deeply sexist and toxic Mad Men-esque environments of the ’60s and ’70s, to the mind-numbing and isolating cubicle-based layouts of ’80s and ‘90s offices (where sexism was still there in more subterfugal ways).

Dr. David Plans, CEO and Co-Founder at BioBeats, says that looking at these examples, one might think we have made good progress in terms of culture in the workplace, but there are still many issues to be resolved; chief among which is the stereotypical vision of what makes a great leader.

Corporate culture is often defined by its leadership and in how people believe they need to act to climb the ranks. The stereotype of a leader is a mix of strength, power, and resilience, with a laser-focus on results and the ability to suppress all emotion.

Leaders are meant to remain stoic and unyielding in the face of stress. Such personal traits are idolised, rewarded, and sought out in today’s corporate culture, but are they really the qualities we ought to look for in our leaders?

This deep-rooted stereotype has led to decades (if not centuries) of gender assumptions around leadership traits being easier to find in men, who in many cases grow up being told vulnerability is a sign of weakness and systematically confuse emotional restraint with resilience as a result.

The ability to suppress emotion isn’t a skill we should praise. In reality, suppressing emotion while simultaneously combatting the stress and pressures of a leadership role can turn anyone into a ticking time bomb.

It can bring a person to the brink of an explosive episode, where any challenge may trigger toxic behaviour, which makes people around them unwell (and kills productivity). When we add a lack of good-quality sleep, constant and often difficult decision-making demands, and the continuous challenge of maintaining a work/life balance (particularly in employees with families), it can all bubble up and manifest in burnout.

Corporate culture is in crisis. This is not hyperbole; it is the stark reality of how work impacts our lives today. Data from Mind shows a staggering 95% of employees who have taken time away from work due to stress named another reason for their absence, such as an upset stomach or headache, in order to avoid discussing their mental wellbeing.

Meanwhile, research by the Mental Health Foundation found 29% of people had felt so stressed that they started drinking or increased their drinking, and 16% had started smoking or increased their smoking.

The impact goes beyond individual health. For businesses and the wider economy, poor mental wellbeing manifests in increased sick days, high levels of presenteeism, and unsustainable staff churn, which translate into higher costs for training, recruitment, temporary staff and lower productivity overall.

This article was originally posted in Business Matters Magazine (opens new tab).