Have you ever called into work on a sick day and fibbed that you have the flu, just so you didn’t have to admit you were battling stress?
Despite living in a world where the term ‘mental health’ is used much more freely than it once was, many of us are still anxious about admitting our true feelings at work.
Yet one woman is on a crusade to revolutionise how employers support employees and fight the stigma that feeling overwhelmed by work can bring.
Meet Kirsten Samuel, who knows first-hand how pressure can weigh heavy on the mind and soul having started her career in the corporate world.
However, after a chance encounter left her realising she was unhappy in the tech industry, she turned her life around to help others who might be struggling with their work-life balance.
And so, Kamwell was born, an organisation that provides employee wellbeing programmes.
Their signature programme, developed with Olympic gold medallist Sally Gunnell OBE, is rooted in holistic practice to energise, engage and support employees with their wellbeing and performance.
They also offer consultancy, which is a deep dive into understanding the health and wellbeing of a workforce, and provide wellbeing support too which is currently delivered virtually.
Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Kirsten told us about how and why she wanted to start her own business that could not only inspire others but also help people avoid burnout.
Kirsten said: “Have you ever had a career where you’re well thought of, have been successful, and where progressing up the ranks with your eyes on the prize was something you could visualise and almost touch? That was (and still is) me; super ambitious, driven and hardworking.
“I’d always assumed I’d stay in the corporate tech world until I’d made it to the top, until one day, I realised I didn’t want that anymore, and then there was no time to waste.”
She continued: “My defining moment was on a work trip to the US where I was hosting a number of banking executives at our Executive Briefing Centre.
“After two days in a boardroom, the only female around the table, it suddenly came to me as clear as day that this was no longer enough for me.
“I knew in that moment I wasn’t fulfilling my potential as work no longer felt purposeful. And so, two weeks later, I decided to leave a career that promised so much and set up on my own.”
As she put pen to paper to begin visualising how her own company would take shape, Kirsten knew she wanted an organisation that would create healthy, human-centred workplaces.
However, when she began back in 2013, many businesses had not yet come across the concept of wellbeing, let alone had it on their agenda.
Kirsten said: “Making money in the first few years was tough as companies usually went as far as fruit baskets for employees, smoothie bikes or a once-a-year talk on nutrition.
“When I look back at my first few years of running Kamwell, my job was very much geared around educating the market, driving the agenda as publicly as I could, and working with organisations that wanted to be trailblazers in the employee wellbeing space.
“The first few years were a long hard slog, but I never lost sight of our purpose and the potential large-scale change that I knew we could bring about.”
Fortunately, the landscape has changed significantly over the last five years. However, it is bittersweet, with the current pandemic highlighting the importance of wellbeing as we see more and more employees struggling with Covid-related anxiety and mental health issues.
Yet Kirsten is ready to rise to the challenge and believes we have to begin with normalising the conversation around mental health. In particular, she wants to invite men aboard too.
She said: “It’s important that men feel that opening up is acceptable and that they can talk about a mental health issue, just as they would if they had a physical issue, with no judgement.
“Male mental health ambassadors and senior role modelling can also be exceptionally valuable as they show that vulnerability – a common barrier to seeking support – is a symbol of strength.”
Kirsten added: “Educating men about the various symptoms of mental illnesses can also help deconstruct misconceptions that might prevent them from seeking treatment.
“For instance, depression can manifest in crying or staying in bed all day, but other signals also include risky, inappropriate or escapist behaviour.
“Informing men about the diverse indications of poor mental health might help them contextualise their own behaviour and therefore recognise if they need to seek help.”
Kirsten also believes that if society embraces wellbeing as something not just to be prevented but also promoted, then we can finally smash taboos once and for all.
She added: “I’d like to see people discuss mental health with a tone of normality rather than shame. We’re never embarrassed to say that we’re off to the gym, in fact, many say it with pride!
“Imagine if we could get to the stage where employees are asking for therapy recommendations, like they would for personal trainers?
“It would be great to see daily conversations reflect a real openness about self-care and in particular mental health.”
Her hopes for Kamwell are equally ambitious as she hopes to teach staff not just to respond well in a crisis but nurture their wellbeing as part of an ongoing journey.
Kirsten concluded: “Wellbeing should no longer be an optional nice-to-have or tick-box exercise, but it should be an integral, non-negotiable aspect of the business and on every corporate agenda.
“When leaders prioritise wellbeing without question, I believe we can say that mental health is no longer judged but regarded as part of the human experience.
It is on taking these steps that Kirsten feels we can create a seismic shift in working life, where employees thrive and prevalent issues such as absenteeism and burnout are drastically reduced.
We couldn’t agree more! Where do we sign up?
For more info, click here: Kamwell.