As a child, Humpty Dumpty wasn’t one of my favourite nursery rhymes. The tale of an egg shaped man tumbling off a wall didn’t really appeal to my imagination that much I guess, I was more of an Old Macdonald kind of girl.
Yet age and experience have made me realise that there are powerful lessons we can learn from Humpty & Co. Specifically, this famed fall from height can provide us with a simple yet insightful message about the ways we should be approaching mental health in the workplace.
For anyone not familiar with this childhood classic, it goes as follows:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Now, like Humpty, most employees experience their fair share of falls. From daily stressors to serious life challenges, every single person can become scratched, chipped, fractured and even broken. And often it is the pressures that many employees face at work that leave them unsteady on their feet and shake their foundations, leaving it inevitable that they will need some help regaining their balance and finding their feet again.
This is where all the King’s horses and all the King’s men come into the equation. This shows us how important it is to have support, that every person in the workplace has the knowledge to recognise when cracks start to emerge (in themselves and others) and help each other rebuild. Whether it is through making adjustments in the workplace or seeking professional support for recovery, the aim is to help empower the individual and support them in putting their pieces back together again.
So, what went wrong with Humpty?
Humpty had the very best of the royal’s finest aids and their steeds, he was surrounded by prestigious individuals offering their assistance. In the modern day this could include a long list of individuals keen to step in to the workplace and intervene…high profile speakers, trainers, motivational coaches, inspirational story tellers, specialists consultants… like Humpty, it seems we are surrounded by proposed solutions. And whilst many of these experts could possibly help Humpty, the real problem here is the wall.
Yes, the wall, the very structure Humpty trusted to support him, the workplace itself.
In far too many cases, this wall lacks the strength in the foundations to maintain levels of stability and keep spirits level. The bonds between the bricks are too weak for positive relationships to thrive. Poorly designed processes, increasing pressures and reduced resources mean that the construction is rushed and time isn’t taken to build a working environment where people can thrive. This leaves many employees like Humpty feeling uncertain, unsupported and vulnerable and when he does get knocked, there is insufficient stability to keep him steady and he can fall.
And as a result, when he does fall, he lacks the motivation and energy to get back up. He has become disengaged and disillusioned and he has no faith in his employers ability to help support him. He certainly doesn’t feel that the workplace is a place he can trust to help him recover and aid him in his rehabilitation to the workplace.
Now putting Humpty to one side….
Every day I see people at breaking point, pushed to their limit and trying to struggle on and simply just cope. And when people do recognise there is a problem and the troops rally round, it can take a lot longer to help the individual recover and return to work. If we are really going to address workplace mental health, the message needs to be stated loud and clear that action is needed before cracks start to emerge.
So, in summary, the top three takeaways from my old friend Humpty:
1. Build a working environment based on solid foundations, policies and procedures that are embedded in the working culture and processes that are designed to create a workplace where people can thrive.
2. Create strategies to identify early cracks in the wall so that your focus is on rebuilding your wall and not your people, taking action to address behaviours that are detrimental to worker wellbeing.
3. Make it known that anyone who does fall will be supported by the organisation during every stage of their recovery and rehabilitation.