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May 11, 2022


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Mental health

“We are not alone” – Embracing change and transition to empower mental health conversations

During Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, Managing Director of Comelit-PAC, Francesca Boeris, talks about mental health in the workplace. Specifically with a focus on the need to embrace change and transition, however traumatic, confidently and knowing we are never alone.

“We don’t have to do it alone. We were never meant to.”

Brene Brown, researcher and storyteller

Francesca Boeris, UK Managing Director, Comelit-PAC

We are creatures of habit who find comfort in the familiar, particularly in times of stress. In our ideal, we feel at our most safe when life is predictable and we are in control. Of course, we know the reality is often different in our blurring work and personal lives.

We live in a constantly changing world. Nowhere can this be seen more perfectly than in 2020, when the COVID pandemic hit and everything we knew was turned upside down overnight. It brought an unknown entity that we all had to navigate, often isolated from our own support services.

Such significant changes and transitions leave us feeling unsettled and stressed, and this stress impacts every aspect of our lives. But as the old adage says, “it’s not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is a about learning to dance in the rain”. It sounds so simple doesn’t it, but as we know, it’s anything but easy to implement.

Moving with the tide

As adults, we are now bombarded with messages about resilience, grit, perseverance and success. Mental health is still not spoken about enough, or honestly enough and we subconsciously believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Our internal belief system has somehow suggested to us that asking for help is inferior to soldiering on alone.

But if this whole experience has taught us anything, it is that as a collective, we all experienced the stress of living, working and leading through the pandemic, although it will have looked different for each person. British writer and broadcaster Damian Barr put it best, when he tweeted in April 2020: “we are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm.”

More than two years later, the storm continues, albeit feeling slightly less tumultuous than before.

That’s why now is the perfect time to take what we learned from the pandemic to affect long term, positive change. It is time to learn to overcome our inner whisperings and realising that saying ’help!’ is one of the most important, if not vital, things we can do, whenever we require to do so.

Mental health duty of care

Here for me, no longer is mental health seen as a separate issue, or part of an employee’s personal life.

Since 2020 at the very least, it has been increasingly recognised that people bring their whole selves to work, in sickness and in health. But with one in six workers now experiencing a mental health problem at any one time, the cost of mental ill health at work to UK employers is said to have increased by 16% to a staggering £45 billion.

We have a duty of care to recognise issues such as mental health, just as we would physical concerns. We all know how it feels to be desperate for a break – not just as a week or two in the sun – but strategies where required for real, tangible time away from the demands of everyday life.

“Workplaces are a key area in MHFA’s efforts; given that we spend so much of our daily lives in the company of colleagues, it is a powerful opportunity for early intervention in a mental health problem. We need people to be brave and simply talk, even to recognise the power of a ‘good old moan.’

“We don’t have to do all of it alone and we have to recognise that letting out emotions is healthy. Keeping them locked up for fear of seeming ungrateful, too negative or ‘un-gentle’ is hugely problematic.”

Getting better at sharing

During the pandemic, I got the opportunity to speak to fellow managers in the industry, to discuss the pressures to support our business and people during a period that none of us had experienced.

The management of business took an unprecedented amount of time and resource to balance. We really had to create different messages to offer consistent peace of mind when it came to every day financials, product, technical support and overall service. Our solution at Comelit-PAC was our ‘in business together’ pledge, something which resonated throughout our customer base.

Critically, we collectively could see members of our team struggling. As work/life boundaries were being blurred, we had these conversations virtually – it was like being invited into their living rooms, even briefly meeting their families. An often confusing situation, where understanding was essential.

This is where many styles of leadership had to be considered, where qualities that have more traditionally been seen as ‘feminine’, such as empathy, were of most value. I have written about the strength of what can be perceived as a distinctly ‘female’ style of leadership in the past.

More so than ever, personally, I reached out to my team. I encouraged us all to bring our authentic selves to work. It was the opportunity to show that it is ok not to try and battle to keep issues at bay. I saw and empathised with parents brought to their knees with having to become home educators and home workers. I felt the loneliness of being separated from loved ones.

We are not alone

A key approach is to lead by example. From my own experience, I had my moments. Having honest conversations and being vulnerable with your team gives them permission to do the same. What’s more, the connection with my team has been a huge source of strength for my own mental wellbeing. I felt able to bring my ‘authentic’ self to my team and share in their same concerns.

Because although we may be able to hold back change for a short time, our hastily built mental blocks will eventually break down. I understood quickly that you don’t have to be an expert in mental health to talk about it.

And this is a key tenet behind the work of Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA), which exists to empower people to understand mental ill health and offer first aid support.

One key significant step forward in both our Manchester and Luton office is we have mental health first aiders, trained for the team to talk to. And we are constantly evolving our support services and educating ourselves and those around us on the signs of mental health and how to cope.

Workplaces are a key area in MHFA’s efforts; given that we spend so much of our daily lives in the company of colleagues, it is a powerful opportunity for early intervention in a mental health problem. We need people to be brave and simply talk, even to recognise the power of a ‘good old moan.’

We don’t have to do all of it alone and we have to recognise that letting out emotions is healthy. Keeping them locked up for fear of seeming ungrateful, too negative or ‘un-gentle’ is hugely problematic.

Drawing from within, understanding capacity or limit of personal headspace became key. So does offering a safe environment for those who recognised they were approaching a limit, and needed to offload somehow to make space and ‘cope.’

For team Comelit-PAC, the existing strength carried myself and my team through. The family feel of our culture was deepened as the team brought their authentic selves to our Friday update video calls – where necessary bringing children, pets, difficult feelings alongside successes, positivity and our continued charity work.

As restrictions eased, we continued these sessions with much positive feedback. Our resolve to work together and look out for each other has helped the mental and physical load of moving with the tide and learning to accept life’s transitions, both big and small, with grace.


With you always

I remain immensely proud to be part of the Comelit-PAC team, and passionate about continuing to build on our strong culture, looking to protect our physical and mental health.

In January 2022, we launched our new brand identity. As CEO of Comelit Group, Edoardo Barzasi commented, this didn’t “mark a real ‘before and after’ in the history of Comelit.”

Instead, it better represents our existing values that make us so competitive in the market, a trusted company that values its people, whether that’s customers, collaborators, suppliers or distributors.

This is where the claim “With you always”, which now appears beneath our logo came from. It speaks to togetherness and reliability, and a company that values its people. It speaks of community.

Edoardo continued: “the passage of time teaches us to be introspective and to treasure the new awareness that emerged”. Post-pandemic, this is an idea that I think most industry professionals can resonate with.

The hashtag for Mental Health Awareness Week in 2022 is #ivebeenthere. Another set of three simple words that demonstrate the power of connection in making us feel less alone. Drawing on others’ lived experience of dealing with problems that might currently feel insurmountable to you can be a powerful way to tackle loneliness.

A focus on people has always been one of the most important features of a successful business, but post-pandemic, a robust wellbeing strategy is going to be even more key. With that in mind, I’m hoping this inspires more conversations about mental wellbeing.

Perhaps if we all strive to have one ‘I’ve been there’ conversation with a colleague, we can deal with the unexpected curveballs life throws at us. It makes us all ‘real people, ‘with ‘real needs and real limits to what we can handle at any one time.

And the change needn’t be as traumatic as the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes the small transitions prove just as explosive for us. Whatever it is, we can start from the reassurance that we really don’t have to deal with it alone.

Mental Health Awareness Week (9th – 15th May 2022) is the annual event from the Mental Health Foundation, which aims to get the whole of the UK focused on good mental health. The theme this year is loneliness, which has proven to be a significant public health issue during the pandemic, and one which has historically been hidden away and shrouded in shame.


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May 11, 2022 4:05 pm

Well said and what a great ethos .. not just talked about but demonstrated through actions and leadership ..