Let’s talk about men’s mental health, balance and flexibility

Last week two of our customers Spencer Hudson, Global Head of Ecommerce Technical Solutions at GHD and Claire Essex-Crosby, HR Director at Eagle Eye, along with Rob Foster, Lead Engineer at Rackspace and myself took part in a panel discussion. As part of Rack Gives Back, our internal charity resource group, Rob has been leading the Movember Foundation activities designed to change perceptions around men’s health. The themes we covered included how companies can support true co-parenting, men’s mental health and identifying positive male role models.

Balancing fatherhood with work
A study by the University of Georgia found that fathers who spend lots of time with childcare on workdays are developing the best relationships with their children[i]. As such, organisations that support working fathers and the promotion of flexible working are playing an important role in enabling fathers to have optimum work/life balances.

For Rackspace, we are working on finding the balance between paternity and maternity leave by making it easier to extend paternity leave. And Rackers (Rackspace employees) are provided with the flexibility in their working day so that parents can be physically present for their children, for example, on school runs. During my time at Rackspace, I have seen things develop substantially in terms of flexible working practices. However there is still hesitancy on the uptake of them.

The workplace has come a long way in the past twenty years when it comes to flexibility. Rob shared how he courageously made the decision to quit his job to be self-employed when his wife was pregnant as he feared that he wouldn’t have the right work/life balance to raise his child. Twenty years later and flexible working is being embraced.

Spencer explained that the flexibility afforded to him by GHD means he is able to share responsibility for taking his daughters to school. He recounted how that time means he is more involved in her life with things like reading and the fraught tribulations for example, finding the yellow school book.

Claire raised the point that the number one cause of absence in the workplace is the breakdown of childcare as opposed to sickness absence. Her perspective is that employers need to have family-friendly policies that extend beyond statutory leave, as well as forums that allow childcare challenges to be discussed and resolved.

Rackspace has an employee group for parents which is one of the ways that we as an organisation are encouraging parents to play a more active role in the lives of their children.

Men’s mental health
Mental health is often perceived as a taboo subject, but the great work of organisations like Movember are raising awareness and destigmatising the subject.  At Rackspace, we promote mental wellbeing through the Lavender group which is group of volunteer Rackers promoting health and wellbeing, POWER, our women empowerment group committed to better balance in the workplace, and a number of HR initiatives such as supporting Mental Health Awareness Week. Most recently we have trained around twenty Rackers to be Mental Health First Aiders and are providing mandatory leadership training for line managers to help create a supportive culture for Rackers.

The role of line managers is key in setting the tone for helping their teams manage the pressures of daily life. We can’t eliminate stress but we can help recognise triggers and work towards providing coping mechanisms. For example, England coach Gareth Southgate was chastised for missing a penalty as a footballer in an international match. That experience now informs his leadership style where footballers are encouraged to be more open with their emotions and learn from their shortfalls.

Claire elaborated on this point by emphasising the importance of employers recognising how mental health impacts us all. She went on to say that people are the biggest asset of any organisation. Her point was that as a culture we assess physical risks but there is little to no education around mental health risks. Claire shared how Eagle Eye are actively engaging employees in both mental health first aid training and now employees themselves are instigating initiatives like painting sessions as the culture becomes more open around wellbeing.

Positive role models
For me, my mum has been my role model as she was able to inspire and lead volunteers in huge theatre productions. She motivated volunteers to use their spare time while also being a single parent. And one of my favourite customers Supercell, a Finish mobile game company, that has a fantastic relationship with failure, whenever they have to close down production on a game they celebrate – with Champagne!

Spencer revealed that he appreciates how the definition of beauty and modeling is becoming more inclusive. The transgender models and models of different ages are now representing the many faces of beauty. He personally found Greta Thunberg to be a good example of a positive model as she is so young but able to raise such important issues on the world stage.

And Claire shared how for her role models are people who she aspires to emulate in the workplace. She felt that life is not straightforward and role models are the ones who are able to carry themselves with humility and high integrity in all environments.

The panel discussion allowed us to raise awareness of such important issues while also providing insights into the experiences of our customers GHD and Eagle Eye. The event we held at Rackspace this week was extremely well received and several Rackers have approached me since to say how the conversation had impacted them and made them think. There is so much more to be done around these topics and making space for conversations like this one is vital. It helps us galvanize our commitment to increasing diversity in leadership and technical roles and recognise the impact of the modern workplace and society, on ourselves and the people we work with. Let’s be kind and look out for each other.

[i] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190611133938.htm

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George joined Rackspace in 2006, enticed by the customer centric culture and enthusiasm of Rackers. Initially, he led our client services teams and was recognised as a National Customer Services Award winner, three times. ​ Having been part of the leadership team since 2013, George is responsible for anticipating customer needs, developing emerging technology services and releasing them to the EMEA market. Here he incubated Rackspace’s managed public cloud in partnership with AWS, Microsoft and Google, which are now the cornerstone of growth in the region.​ George is passionate about long-term transformation and enabling the sustainable new growth businesses. He has led strategic and commercial development across DevOps, managed public cloud and application services. ​ George and his wife are family orientated with two beautiful children, and he’s never too far away from either a snowboard or a motorbike.

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