HJA Consult Director Mike Hurst and Chris Middleton, Director, Major Accounts & Strategic Development at Corps Security discuss industry attitudes to mental health and wellbeing with SJUK Editor, Becci Knowles.
A well-known figure in the industry, Mike Hurst founded the specialist security recruitment firm HJA Consult, or HJA Fire & Security as it was then, in 1992. He is also European Regional Director for IFPO and a mental health and wellbeing advocate.
Mike had personally been involved with a charity called PTSD Resolution for 9 or 10 years before he came to realise the poor situation for frontline security workers. He says, “I was a little late to the party really, but it was obvious that something needed to be done.” Mike spoke to a few interested parties; Chris Middleton included and started the Security Minds Matter project, an industry led initiative supported by the Security Industry Authority.
Chartered Security Professional and OSPA 2022 winner Chris Middleton started out in the industry as a security officer 20 years ago. He has since held senior leadership positions in security and facilities management, with roles at EY, PwC, Deloitte, and Marsh & McLennan. Today he is Director, Major Accounts & Strategic Development at Corps Security, a specialist security services provider, and social enterprise.
Chris is also a qualified Mindset Coach and volunteers his time by going into secondary schools and corporate businesses to give personal resilience and wellbeing talks based on his own lived experience.
He says, “I’ve been speaking about mental health for several years, sharing my background being a high functioning professional but at the same time having a huge battle with mental health. I was trying to be a leader of people, a busy director, a dad, all those things while at the same time fighting daily with mental health.” Chris tells me he lived through these battles every day for two years. “Ironically, I came out of it with the best performance I had ever achieved commercially and with recognition from industry, but nobody knew. From the outside I was smashing it out of the park, but on the inside, I was in turmoil. That’s where my lived experience comes from. For me mental health is nothing new, I was born into it 44 years ago.”
Chris was introduced to Mike by a mutual friend in the industry, Yolanda Hamblen. “When Mike and I first started talking about mental health and wellbeing it was at the beginning of the pandemic and we both said was, when we come out of this pandemic, we are possibly going to be going into a new one, which is mental health for those working on the security frontline.”
Chris says that during this time, his team were dealing with suicides daily – especially at the beginning of the pandemic, many young people were taking their lives, he says. There were also stabbing incidents, people walking into shopping centres and trying to hurt themselves in front of them or turning abusive and violent when asked asking to comply with social distancing measures. “The things my team were seeing and dealing with was unbelievable, but at the end of their 12 hour shift they had to go home and be mum, or dad. Where is the aftercare? The intervention, or postvention support? Mike and I agreed we had a moral responsibility to do something and that was how Security Minds Matter occurred. It wasn’t just a gimmick. Mike cleverly sought out more people to join that world -medical people, psychologists, psychotherapists – we all brought something different, and Security Minds Matter was born.”
Mike and Chris have since gone onto work on several things either IFPO related promoting mental health or in terms of Corps Security. “Mike and I shared the stage to talk about mental health at ‘The Invisible Enemy’ at an event held at the In and Out Club in May.”
During the event and with limited support from industry peers, they announced key pledges to address mental wellbeing awareness, which included education for managers and colleagues, hosted mental health events in London and new signposting cards for all security officers.
Chris explains, “Like the armed forces covenant, we wanted to create a mental health covenant for the industry – we asked industry to get on board as a working group to kick this off. We wanted their absolute commitment that they would join us in advocating prevention, so rather getting to burnout, they would have the tools to recognise it before it becomes a problem.” To kick start this we honoured one of our pledges, by hosting three workshops focused on Managing Stress and Preventing Burnout at our head office, which was led and delivered by Well-being expert, and Psychologist Dr Tina Cartwright from the Westminster University to over 40 colleagues and industry peers.
The next event, Mental Health in Security: Are we doing enough? will be held at the In and Out Military Club in London on Tuesday 10th October from 2pm and will host Dr Tina Cartwright from the University of Westminster, veteran mental health charity Combat Stress, and leading workplace mental health specialists Thrive Mental Wellbeing. Alongside presentations from the guest companies, Corps’ CEO Mike Bullock and mental health advocate Chris will update guests on the progress of the pledges committed to in May. (Limited spaces are available)
What Chris and Mike along with others are trying to promote is there is good mental health and there is bad mental health and while in the early days the focus was on the frontline because that was where it was most prominent, they are keen to stress that metal health and well being support is needed throughout the industry.
“This is not just about the security frontline, it affects everybody – the managers, the supervisors, the directors, the managing directors, the support functions,” says Chris. “What I’m seeing across the industry is middle management and higher that are now stressed, suffering burnout, being signed off, so for me it was about the wellness of everybody. We want to promote mental wellness and to promote mental wellness first you must understand poor mental health, we are not trying to dilute that. But we must ask, how do we help those people who have been affected? How do we promote their recovery and help them be the best version of themselves?”
Picking up on this Mike tells me that he and Chris have put together a steering committee of about 7 or 8 people, it has the support of the SIA so they have representatives on it as well. “I must also give credit to ASIS International; they have done a lot to support our work, the SIA of course and Corps International.” Now the group is an unincorporated committee, but Mike says that there are plans to formalise it, which would allow them to start fundraising.
In the meantime, the group is keen to see meaningful change in the industry. “A lot of companies talk about mental health, but when it comes to taking action, they suddenly go quiet,” says Chris. There are a couple of practical things the committee is working on to make industry act. Mike says, “We are looking to change BS10800 which is the overarching standard regarding man guarding services. There is currently no reference to metal health wellbeing in the standard and we want that changed.”
The committee also wants the ACS Contractor Scheme to include mental health and wellbeing as a performance indicator. There are 78 indicators as a company you must benchmark yourself against within a workbook; an independent auditor will then check your workbook versus the workbook from the SIA and ACS, write a report and grant ACS Approved status if they achieve a high enough score. Mike says, “Health and Safety is listed, but there is no reference to mental health and well-being, so that’s something else we are trying to change, but like changing legislation, these things take time.”
Mike has also had some cards printed, promoting Security Minds Matter and with signposting to services that can help people struggling or in crisis. “Talking about mental health is good for people, it’s good for business and it’s good for security because if people are not at their best because they have mental health problems you get lack of performance, absenteeism, presenteeism, they might be more likely to take risks, and do silly things; insider threats could be increased. According to a recent academic report people who committed lone acts of terrorism are 13.49 times more likely to suffer from poor mental health than people who work in a group.
While Chris comes at this from lived experience, Mike, by his own admission, is one of the lucky ones – he has never suffered with his mental health. I suggest that he’s an empathetic person and that’s why advocates so strongly for mental health and wellbeing. He is quick to dispel that myth. “To be fair I’m not a very empathetic person, that’s part of the problem. I’m of a generation whereby the default position is “man up and get on with it”, which is completely wrong but that’s what I’m fighting against really. I like facts and I think I have a sense of what’s right and wrong and this is wrong.”
So, let’s look at the facts. The World Economic Forum said that the “mental wellbeing of a population is essential for a country’s sustainability, growth and development”. It estimates that “globally, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety at a cost of $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. In the UK, the estimate is that poor mental health costs the UK economy £45bn per annum.”
Not looking after the mental health and well-being of your employees clearly comes at a cost. And while companies are increasingly tuned in to the need for organisational resilience, they perhaps need to look more closely at promoting personal resilience. Chris sums it up well, “Human resilience is just as important to consider when it comes to the business impact analysis and the right people making the right decisions at times of critical decision making.” Your business is only as resilient as your people – look after them.