The silent burden of the business leader and assistant is not confined to times of pandemic, but both groups have been left emotionally exposed and exhausted by the crisis.

This was at the core of the discussions held last week when Dr Philip McCrea, expert in occupational health for BHSF, and Katie Bott, executive assistant to our BHSF group chief executive, joined a speaker panel at the PA Forum Annual Learning and Development Conference. They talked about the importance of connecting leaders and executive assistants with specialist mental health support, sharing a wealth of advice and personal experience which resonated with so many on the day.

We’ve talked about the importance of leading from the top on this blog before, but here’s a recap on the topic, which we hope will similarly spark further discussions for those in need of support.

Most directors and senior managers have been spinning plates like never before; at the forefront of the crisis, carrying an unprecedented workload. Whether reporting to shareholders or with their own name above the door, they are the ones who have consistently pushed leave back; have always been on hand to help their teams, and held an enormous responsibility. No surprise then that they have built up a lot of stress that needs addressing.

The situation has also created a perfect – emotional – storm for those who have been supporting leaders, as they struggle to know how and when to step in, while also carrying their own emotional burden as a result of increased workloads and acting as a confidant and ‘workplace spouse’.

The COVID-19 pandemic needs to be a wake-up call for workplace wellbeing. Early intervention to tackle physical and mental health issues employees may be facing is the urgent step required to significantly reduce the emotional and financial cost of workplace absenteeism – starting at the top.

The philosophy of looking after mental wellbeing has to start at the top. If business leaders want their employees to acknowledge when things are not going well and they need support, nothing makes that happen more than when those at the top do exactly that themselves. It’s all very well thinking you must stay strong and that weakness isn’t allowed, but that sends a message to your team that that is how they have to behave, too. It’s counterproductive. If directors are seen looking after themselves and their mental wellbeing, it sends a powerful message that everyone should do the same.

Best analogy for this? Think back to the last time you were on an airplane, and the steward did demonstrated what happens if the cabin depressurises. The oxygen masks fall from the panel above. Put yours on; don’t try to help others around you first, including your children. You have to look after yourself first, and only if you are okay, can you look after those around you. It’s the same with mental wellbeing; look after yours, and it will help you look after your team’s.

To find out more about the tailored support that BHSF can offer right across your workplace, including leaders and support teams, contact us on 0121 454 3601 or visit