Why Mental Health Awareness needs addressing within sales teams

The term ‘mental health’ covers our emotional, psychological and social well-being. Our mental health affects how we think, feel and act as well as how we handle stress, relate to others and our decision making.

It’s an unfortunate truth that one in four people in the UK suffer with mental health conditions every year. As well as the social and personal impact of these conditions, mental health is estimated to have an annual impact to the economy of over £100bn and costs employers around £1300 per employee in staff absences and productivity issues. [1]

With the increasing impact that technology and social media are having on our mental health it’s unsurprising that it’s the topic on everyone’s lips right now, particularly in the workplace.

Why are salespeople vulnerable to mental health conditions?

Sales roles are widely acknowledged as one of the most highly stressful jobs going.  In fact, a survey by online career database PayScale ranked Sales Account Managers as the second most stressful job option with 73% of respondents ranking it as highly stressful.[2]

The day-to-day experiences that salespeople encounter can be emotionally stressful and this can have a negative impact on mental health.  A combination of tricky cold-calls, on top of an uncertain income and the potential for time away from friends and family due to long hours or travel all feed into increased levels of stress.

The smartly dressed, well-polished and confident salesperson is one ingrained within our culture.  Presenting the ‘best-version’ of yourself has always been a feature of the sales industry, however millennial sales people have exacerbated this with the use of social-media.  The image your team may be presenting in the office, as well as on platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook, is often a facade that they do not identify with.

While individuals need to take responsibility for their own mental health, it’s important they are being supported by their employer and line manager in doing this.

What can employers do to support their employee’s mental health?

The most important tool for any salesperson is their brain, if a salesperson’s brain can’t perform at its best then it’s likely that the salesperson will not be delivering the numbers they are targeted.

To make an impact on a wider business strategy can be a real challenge.  Particularly if you’re steering the ship of a larger and more traditional organisation that has never considered mental health support before.  Saying this, there are a few things you can do to kickstart your companies new approach to mental health support.

Raise awareness

Educate your senior leadership team on why Mental Health support is of increasing importance with the current workforce.  The workplace and the surrounding environment has changed a lot since they were probably on the sales floor and they may need some help in understanding this.  Look into speaking to charities like ‘Heads Together’ or ‘Mind’ who often do outreach work and may be able to advise you on this or even run a workshop with your management teams.

If your board or management team are particularly hard to convince try addressing the talent attraction angle.  Companies that support their team’s wellbeing are far more attractive to the millennial workforce than companies that don’t, this could really help solve your recruitment challenges.

Mental health first aider

It’s time we take care of our brains like we take care of our bodies.  In every office you’ll have a trained first aider, well how about providing training for certain team members to become your Mental Health First Aiders.  These individuals are not qualified psychologists or coaches by any means.  They will however know how to signpost struggling employees in the right direction, and understand what signs to be looking out for in their teams.

You can visit MHFA for more information and for training courses.

Consider your company culture

The culture of your company is crucial to your team’s wellbeing, so step back and consider the culture objectively.  Is it the norm for team members to stay late and get in early? Do they take their lunch breaks? Are they eating healthily? Is there a strong drinking culture? If you think your workforce might be in the habit of burning the candle at both ends you’re probably not getting the best out of them.

It’s tough to change a companies culture as a management team however implementing these processes or small changes might help adjust it to a more positive zone.

Introduce a fresh fruit trolley to encourage healthy eating instead of coffee and chocolate snacking

Implement lunch time meals (without drinking emphasis) or activities to encourage people to step away from their desks such as sports teams or clubs

Share the company expectations via a staff-wide email – address the hours expected, the lunch eligibility, the overtime process.

Introduce a ‘TOIL scheme’ where employees working overtime are given time off in lieu for working overtime which they are encouraged to take

Introduce plants into the office

Why not start with something simple and make sure that your working environment is a positive place for your team to be spending their time.  Studies have shown that simply adding greenery, such as indoor plants, can have major benefits for employees and their organisations.

[1]https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/news/mental-health-problems-work-cost-uk-economy-ps349bn-last-year-says-centre-mental-health

[2] https://www.inc.com/nick-hedges/how-to-deal-with-stress-in-sales.html

Plants can increase productivity, decrease stress, reduce sickness, clean the air, help reduce noise level and boost creativity.  If that doesn’t convince you that you need some pot plants, did you know that a one in three of us say workplace design affects whether we choose to join a company? Including plants in an office space makes it automatically feel more aspirational, particularly if the plant type and its placement is well-considered.

Introduce a well-being programme

Wellbeing programmes don’t just mean ‘Mindful Mondays’ – as much as these are a great step in the right direction.  Employers doing well-being well offer support with several areas that might be causing stress in their team’s lives, for instance financial planning support, counselling schemes, childcare support, eldercare advice or legal support.

While you look into setting up a 360 well-being programme you can take some smaller steps in the right direction.  Speak to local yoga teachers and see if they can run lunchtime sessions for your team.  Consider creating quiet spaces away from the sales floor for team members looking for a quieter spot.  Invite companies like WorkSpa into your office as an added staff benefit, their massages can reduce stress in your employees by up to 80% and reducing stress, reduces absence level and improves overall performance.

What can sales team managers do to support their team’s mental health?

It can take time to make an impact on company policies from a higher level, particularly with larger organisations.  There are, however, things that you, as a line manager and team leader, can do right now to start supporting your team’s mental wellbeing.  We know that you want to do more, in fact 84% of UK line managers believe they are responsible for employee wellbeing.   Here are a few simple things you can start to implement as a manager:

Understand your team

Your team are not unfailingly resilient, as salespeople there are significant emotional strains and risks that accompany their role.  You, as their leader, need to understand the mental health risks associated with their job.  There is a positive correlation between team managers accepting mental health as a potential problem for their team and the support offered.

Be aware

By getting to know your team more you can understand their ambitions and set targets that feed into their wider life goals.  You are also in a better position to recognise when your team are showing signs of strain and care enough to acknowledge this with them and talk to them about how you can support them.

Be conscious of the impact that social media might have on the mental health of your team and consider what you could do to work it to your advantage and support their wellbeing. This could be banning it from the office, or rewarding good behaviour and honesty on channels like LinkedIn to make the platform a more positive place.

Lead from the front

We all know that a strong work-life balance equals better mental health.  A lot of team leads will tell their teams to ‘take your full lunch break’, ‘don’t check your emails on holiday’, ‘make sure to switch off’ in the evenings.  But do you do these things yourself?

As a species we are great at copying, ‘Monkey see, monkey do’ etc etc.  If you want to promote a culture of strong mental health within your team you need to ensure you are practicing what you preach.  If your team see that your out of office is on while you’re away and you’re not replying to emails they are more likely to do this themselves.  You’ll then find your sales team are coming back from their break refreshed and ready to smash their targets.

Summary

Not only is mental health support in the workplace the right thing to do, which it clearly is, it will impact your workforce’s performance.  According to The Oxford Handbook of Strategic Sales and Sales Management, sales reps who experience stress on a regular basis “tend to be less involved in their jobs, less committed to the organization, and to experience lower levels of work and life satisfaction”.

We’ve addressed the simple steps that employers and team leaders can take to actively support mental well-being starting today.  In the years to come mental well-being and performance will have the same importance as physical health and diet.  It’s likely to represent an under-utilised source of competitive advantage for all organisations across all sectors.