Skip to main content

Mental Health Leadership: Nigel Jones

Mental Health Leadership: Nigel Jones
Click to enlarge

Nigel Jones, Co-Founder and Advisory Group Chair at the CMHA, stepped down from the CMHA Board in May. In this latest Leadership Series blog he reflects on  his time working with the organisation.  

May has often been a significant month in CMHA’s history.

In 2010, it was the month in which Linklaters’ Executive Committee approved the firm’s first Stress Management Policy. That may seem a minor development when viewed through today’s glasses. But at the time it marked a major victory for the dedicated HR team whose previous efforts had been thwarted by the absence of a partner signature on the document.

In the same month two years later, the same body approved a collaboration with Goldman Sachs and KPMG on an event on workplace mental health. Again, it is difficult to understand today how big a victory it was to hold any event in the City, let alone jointly with mutual clients, on the topic of mental health.

Those two developments were key to the formal launch of CMHA in November that year. I was the common link – putting forward both proposals as the firm’s first Health & Wellbeing partner, and very soon after taking on that role, recognising that collaborating with like-minded people in other similar organisations was the only way to shift the needle on this topic.

Nine years later, May was also the month in which I stood aside as a member of the CMHA Board, proud to have contributed to the creation of a sustainable, effective organisation, and confident of its future in the hands of those who have succeeded me as its leaders.

Contributing to the health of the nation

Some of our most memorable events have also taken place in the Spring. It was the time of year in which, in 2015, Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, spoke at our Senior Sponsors’ breakfast on the shared challenges he and those business leaders faced in addressing workplace mental health. A year later, senior business leaders including Michael Cole-Fonteyn, then Chair of BNY Mellon, and Brian Heyworth, my successor as CMHA Board Chair, told their moving, personal stories of mental health challenges they had faced, demonstrating the power of story-telling as a way of changing attitudes. And two years after that, through one of Poppy's many connections, I shared our own story with a 700-strong audience at the 2018 NHS Confederation’s Annual meeting in Manchester, receiving the following endorsement from the said Mr Stevens shortly after I had left the stage:

“CMHA is a brilliant example of how business can contribute to the health of the nation and ease the burden on the NHS”

The CMHA team and our members have of course been busy at other times of year – indeed throughout the 10+ years of CMHA’s conception, gestation, growth and development into the mature organisation you see today. And I have many happy memories of the ups and downs I have experienced with those with whom I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working over that period. I have had fun, laughed, cried, learned a great deal, made new friends, broadened my horizons, and expanded my wardrobe (including a bow tie in the bright orange CMHA brand colour, and equally colourful socks, both gifts from fellow Board members when I stood down as Board Chair in the Spring of 2019 – and which I will continue to wear with pride). And I believe that, together, we have made a positive impact: changed attitudes, provided clarity on what works and why, improved people’s mental health both within and beyond the work environment, and saved careers, relationships and lives – not only here in the UK but also in other parts of the world who, with our help, have created organisations based on our pioneering work, suitably adapted to the local business culture.

There is much still to do

Key messages I have learned, shared over the years, remain as relevant now as they always have been.

  1. Any wellbeing initiative must be led by the most senior people in the organisation. Without their support, in words and actions, the time and money invested is likely to be wasted.
  2. The power of stories – such as those told by Michael and Brian back in 2016, preceded by other brave souls and since emulated by others, catalysed into action by those how have led the way.
  3. Collaboration beats competition – hence its being a core value of CMHA from the outset, and one adopted by the CMHA chapters which have been, and are being, created outside the UK.

There is much still to do. We have not yet made ourselves redundant.

There remain business leaders whose walk doesn’t match their talk. Businesses which still do not treat their people’s wellbeing is a business priority. And stigma remains in the minds of too many people.

But I am confident that current and future leaders and members of CMHA will rise to these challenges, and continue the journey with the same grit and determination shown up to now. I wish you all well in that endeavour.