Shitshow is a rather unusual name for a mental health topic… Can you tell us a bit more about the company and why you started it?
We weren't happy with how the topic of mental health was handled at workplaces. It's easier to talk about mental struggles with friends and family and people don’t usually discuss or even mention those problems at work and the key reason for that is stigma surrounding the mental health topic. We realized that a lot of things have to be changed there. And that was the beginning of our agency, the mental health consultancy. That's also where the name of our company name comes from, the SHITSHOW – to really talk about the ‘shitty’ feelings that are part of our life. We also wanted to make our brand as approachable as possible, because normally you associate mental health talk with sad images and negative connotations, which makes the stigma even worse. In order to really sensitize people about the topic and to tackle the stigma we felt that we need a new approach and to make it more fun, so that people would be willing to talk about it. Lots of companies have training programs in the context of prevention, such as resilience programs, or having a psychologist on site. But if the stigma is still present, it's stopping people from taking advantage of those things. People are also afraid of how this would impact their work and people's attitudes towards them.
What do the stigmas tell about our working world and where is it coming from?
There are definitely working ethics pushing us to be obsessed with work, there are even hashtags, such as 'never not working' and the glorification of doing over hours, working late and doing night shifts and working crazy long. It's not healthy, but those voices are loud. We need breaks, it’s normal, however, it’s not easy to speak against this narrative, so we tend to just adapt. However, I definitely think that things are changing. For the younger generation it's more common to talk about feelings, also at their workplace. For them this dialogue is important. There was a really interesting study in the USA, which showed that about 75% of generation Z who left work, did it because of mental health reasons. It's crucial for them to work in an environment where people look at their mental health. It's becoming a topic that companies have to ensure, in order to keep their employees. And so the stigma is decreasing, but there's still a lot to do, especially in the traditional working context.
There are definitely working ethics pushing us to be obsessed with work, there are even hashtags, such as 'never not working' and the glorification of doing over hours
How to fight with that stigma, to break those boundaries?
It's quite tricky, because it can be dangerous to open up if you don't have that psychological safety. Studies have shown that leaders have a huge impact on the working culture and therefore also on the mental health state of the employees. It's really important that more people address that at different hierarchies, rather than just one person trying to fight for change.
Apart from helping those who are struggling, as well as raising awareness, what else do you want to change with the company?
What we want to achieve is to make everyone sensitive on mental health topic, so that not only those who have already struggled with mental health issues are the ones fighting for it, but that everybody is the part of it. Our goal is a working culture where you have the psychological safety to say: "OK, I need a break". And where it's normal to look after your mental health. Two years ago, there was a tweet by a woman working in Silicon Valley in a tech company. She wrote to the entire team, including her boss, that she is struggling with mental health issues and she needs some days off. And then the CEO himself wrote her back that he completely supports this decision. That’s a great example of how we should work and how we should look after ourselves.
The Corona situation has a huge effect on mental health issues, especially that in companies there is additional stress of potential job loss, decrease of hours, etc. What are the steps to take?
I have noticed that a lot of companies as well as people who thought about themselves to be very resilient and strong and wouldn't struggle with mental health issues, realized that it affects everyone, one way or another. In a hard way, the Corona situation sensitized more people on the field of mental health. On the other hand, those who already are affected by mental health issues couldn't do their coping strategies, such as meeting friends, for example. I think we have to be more understanding than ever and more sensitive.
In a hard way, the Corona situation sensitized more people on the field of mental health.
You started two years ago, what are your key learnings?
Every time we worked with clients and we got a glimpse into different working cultures, we learned a lot. What we collected over the years was what we call 'basic assumptions' at workplaces, from which you can learn about stigma and work ethics. What we found out is that there is not a one solution that fits all, we need different methods and approaches for different companies.
Any plans for the future of the SHITSHOW?
For now we focus on the things we are doing at the moment. We have been working a lot with our tools. Our offline workshops have been cancelled due to Corona, and so we became more digital. Now we can reach companies around the globe without having to travel. I hope that in the future we will not only perform workshops but also accompany the companies, in order to really go through the whole change process to become a more mentally healthy working environment.