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Our Trustees

Bob Swallows

Photo of Bob Swallows

Bob Swallow (seen above) has been in the ICT industry for more than 40 years, in the past 20 years holding board level roles including national and international sales leadership, general management and CEO positions for the likes of Siemens and BT. As a Trustee of Mental Health Associates, we asked him what ICT leaders should be aware of as pressures increase on sales teams during the pandemic…

How can you identify an employee struggling, possibly with a mental health issue?

As in all walks of life it is sometimes very difficult to recognise when someone is struggling with mental health. People who don’t want others to know will develop an ability to appear fine. Sales people are particularly good at this, but very few survive putting a brave face on. My experience is that talking things through is much more productive. So it’s important for leaders to develop observational skills and spot people with potential issues.

Do you have any personal experience of people that have 'gone over the edge'?

Sadly, over the years I have seen many sales people suffer from extreme pressure. Often it is created by the individual themselves from fear of failure, or even from peer or partner pressure. With the constant drive for growth or greater profitability from various types of ownership, the scrutiny on performance builds pressure.

What is the impact of unrealistic targets on sales people?

Unrealistic target setting is poor sales leadership. Sales people are well rewarded if they are successful and some believe that because of this, any amount of pressure is OK. If the quality of leadership is good, then they will identify quickly where someone isn’t coping. It is so important for the welfare of the individual, as well as the ethical reputation of the business, that leaders are more aware of peoples’ mental health. This has never been more important than now when our people are working remotely, with little physical interaction and potential feelings of total isolation. These things add to any feelings of foreboding that already exist.

How important is a ‘talking post’ for people who might be struggling?

It is the first and most important step to getting them the help and care they need. Sales people tend to be confident, bordering on arrogant, and therefore not in any need of support. We know that this isn’t the case, and they often struggle to discuss their issues.

How can people in our industry help?

We need funds to create and man a dedicated helpline and provide training and awareness courses for organisations to get the message out there that there are people you can talk to, who have real empathy and who are trained to help people with problems.

Michael Walker

Photo of Michael Walker

How can you identify an employee struggling, possibly with a mental health issue?

It is not an easy task. Mental health is often referred to as the "silent killer" because it is exceedingly difficult to understand what is going on in someone's private life. It is easier to identify changes in individuals' behaviour, performance, attitudes, and appearance in the workplace; however, now we live in a virtual world; those tell tail signs are gone. A lack of training within the management also compounds this issue.

I encourage regular communication and engagement. If you sense problems, do not be afraid to raise them with them, or if you are uncomfortable addressing them directly, don't just ignore it; express your concerns with HR or management as a starting point. Sometimes just listening is an incredible lifeline.

What is the impact of unrealistic targets on sales people?

It will fail nine times out of ten, and it will drive isolation, siloed thinking, and desperation behaviour. It creates divisions in teams and across departments, and the negative impacts will have countless knock on's within the business and directly affect the individual's confidence, performance, and outcome.

Strong leadership, strategy and execution will deliver results. Properly managed salespeople will embrace the task and rise to the challenge, and if the right support network is in place, the performance and output will result in positive outcomes.

How important is a 'talking post' for people who might be struggling?

It is critical! Salespeople by nature are great at telling a story, but sadly when that story is about them, they often go silent. Having an outlet to open even just a little is essential for them to take the first step to deal with the issues. It is equally critical for the person on the "listing post" to take the time to support, advise and encourage those to continue to talk and or in some cases, help them find the professional help they may need. Sadly, this support does not exist within the culture of so many companies as mental health has "never been their problem", which leads to the individual suffering in silence.

How can people in our industry help?

First, we need to accept that mental health is one of the most significant issues we face today and will continue to be one of the biggest killers we face in society.

The pandemic has been the catalyst for people and companies globally to realise that mental health is real, affecting 1 in 4 people. The issues are now hitting so close to home; they can not be ignored.

The challenge now across the UK is getting the medical and social institutions to develop training programs that can support the continuous demand to help people suffering. The reality is that this will take time, and we don't have it! We need to continue to raise funds that will allow us to meet the immediate needs of so many in our industry that are currently suffering in silence.

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