Antonio Horta-Osorio and the importance of resilience

Louise Aston, Business in the Community Wellbeing Director, writes of her respect for a senior leader who has recovered from mental health issues and is using the experience to support his colleagues and open the conversation on mental wellbeing.   


This weekend I was reading an article about the CEO of Lloyds Bank, Antonio Horta-Osorio, and his experience of anxiety and sleep deprivation when trying to turn the bank’s fortunes around. Following his experience, he has now introduced an optimal leadership resilience programme for the senior team at Lloyds, aiming to help executives manage the demands of being in high-pressure roles.

The article is incredibly powerful and I urge you all to take the time to read it if you can. However, it particularly chimed with me following the publication of our new Mental Health at Work 2017 report last week, which found that a shocking 15% of employees faced demotion, disciplinary action or dismissal after disclosing a mental health issue at work. However, what the piece showed is that with the right support, people with mental health issues can get better – something echoed by the recommendations of our report. It also shows that you don’t have to be ‘weak’ to experience mental health issues; Antonio thought he was immune to it, but mental health issues can affect any one of us, regardless of who we are.

I would like to congratulate Antonio on taking such a bold step; by speaking out about this issue he has done an enormous amount to break the stigma surrounding mental health disclosure at work. His recovery and the fact that he has achieved his mission to turn Lloyds around dispels the myth that people who have experienced mental ill health, like physical ill health, can and do recover.

It’s also important to point out that Antonio’s chairman and board were really supportive of him and got him help quickly. Although they could have quite easily written him off, particularly after Lloyds’ shareholder value dropped 5%, they were enlightened enough to believe that with the right support he could get better.

Lloyds’ plan to provide resilience training for senior leaders is very welcome and echoes a recommendation in the Mental Health at Work 2017 report that employers should provide a clear wellbeing offering to employees, including resources to support resilience.

However, although providing resilience training can be beneficial as a preventative measure, it should be used as part of an integrated, whole person, whole system approach to create a work environment that promotes mental wellbeing. Employers can embed wellbeing into organisational culture by adopting our Workwell Model as a framework. The model takes a preventative approach, ensuring all employees can access appropriate support to stay well and engaging proactively with employees so they have a safe space to discuss mental health, as well as taking short or long-term mental health issues into consideration when handling issues concerning performance. Small steps such as encouraging employees to go home on time, take holidays and not respond to emails at all hours can also support employee wellbeing. Our Mental Health Toolkit for Employers has further recommendations and I would encourage all employers to adopt these approaches.

Antonio spoke about his lack of sleep being one of the first signs that suggested he was experiencing anxiety. We know that a lack of quality sleep and/or fatigue can often be symptomatic of other issues, including mental health issues. In January 2018, in partnership with Public Health England, we will be publishing our new sleep and recovery toolkit for employers, which will explore the links between sleep and health (including mental health) and practical actions employers can take.

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