October 2019 and the message comes we had all been expecting, “you are at risk of redundancy”. Now for many people, this was a really hard message to receive and triggered many different emotions. I too had mixed emotions; I had been with the company for 11 years and I felt like I grew up there. I started at the tender age of 28 worked across many departments, bought my first house, had my son, got married, and had my daughter so by 39 I felt like a very different person from that 28-year-old. The company had contributed to that and supported all those major life events, so I felt a comfort and warmth from the place and especially the people. But it did now feel like my time there was coming to a natural and positive end. I had a fire in my belly to start a new adventure where I could not only balance my home life with work more effectively but also do something that could really make a difference to people.
Well throughout my career I have delivered and facilitated many meetings and training sessions and presented to large audiences. I appreciate that can be terrifying for most people, but I got a real buzz out of it. Yes, I would be nervous beforehand, but I always managed to use that energy in a positive way. The feedback I got from people was positive, so if I was good at it and I enjoyed doing it why not make that my career?
This is where my fire and passion comes from. I have been a line manager for about 20 years, managing different teams in different departments from customer service to field sales. If I am honest, I have never been a subject matter expert in any of the departments that I worked in. In my opinion as a line manager, you do not need to be, you just need the ability to inspire and lead your team to deliver the objectives. In most of my teams, they were the experts and I learned a huge amount from them. For me, line management is a skill in itself and should be the reason that someone is hired or promoted into that role. The detail of the market or department they work in can be taught, but the ability to lead a team for me should be the deciding factor. All too many times I have seen experts in their field being promoted into ‘Managers’ roles to try and retain them in the business when their skills, ability, and desire in some cases to be a line manager is seriously lacking. I know all too well the damage that a poorly skilled manager can cause to individuals and businesses. One of my absolute best friends lives with a diagnosed mental health condition. I am not going to disclose the condition as it is completely irrelevant. The fact is she has lived with it for many years and manages it very well in the same way someone would manage a long-term physical health condition. She had been working for a company for about 5 years and really enjoyed her job. She made some great friendships there and was performing really well with great client feedback. Then her line manager got promoted and moved to a different department and a manager from another area of the business was put in a position leading the team she worked in. When she started at the company, she had fully disclosed her condition to her employer, and it had never been seen as an area of concern in her entire career there. To cut a long story short and because it is not my story to tell, her new line manager did not have the leadership skills or understand of mental health that her previous line manager had. He appeared to target her with negative feedback and adding more and more pressure on her with time-sensitive tasks and rules which did not exist before. It got so bad that in a 1:1 meeting he pushed and pushed on performance and attendance perceived issues until she threw up in a bin under the table and experienced a panic attack and an ambulance had to be called. Her condition deteriorated quickly, and the symptoms of her mental health condition became more severe and she was again hospitalised with symptoms of a stroke. Now she did not have a stroke but the impact that the work situation was having on her mental health was now affecting her physical health. This was the turning point and she took action and left that organisation.
Unfortunately, her case was not a lone example from this manager, and more individuals came forward. The company and manager, in this case, had to learn the hard way how mental health conditions should be treated in the same way as a long-term physical condition. The lack of skill, empathy, and basic humanity from this individual was shocking. Just another reason why training your line managers in the appropriate way is so important. I am now pleased to say she is happy, safe, and well and I am extremely proud of how she pulled herself back from this horrific experience and she continues to inspire me every single day.
Because I cannot stand by and let anything like this happen to anybody else. I want to educate and support businesses to create psychologically safe environments for their staff and help them to develop creative & inspiring leaders in their business. I also want to take inspiration from my friend and help individuals come up with strategies and improve their self-awareness to maintain and improve their own mental health. So in a nutshell this is why Hornbeam Training & Wellbeing exists today.
Founder, Director & Mental Health Consultant
Hornbeam Training & Wellbeing Ltd